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Just after the release of the 2014 Nation­al Cer­ti­fic­ate of Edu­ca­tion­al Achieve­ment (NCEA) res­ults, I was con­tac­ted by a journ­al­ist writ­ing an art­icle on our nation­al qual­i­fic­a­tion and altern­at­ive cre­den­tials — the Inter­na­tion­al Bac­ca­laur­eate (IB) Dip­loma in this case — offered in New Zea­l­and schools.

My caller wanted to know the dif­fer­ence between the two qual­i­fic­a­tions and, of course, impli­cit in the ques­tions asked, the best option for seni­or school stu­dents. It nev­er ceases to amaze me how little under­stood NCEA is des­pite the fact that it was imple­men­ted in our sec­ond­ary schools well over ten years ago. So for the record, here are some facts.

To meet the learn­ing needs of today’s seni­or school stu­dents, NCEA has been designed as a unique nation­al qual­i­fic­a­tion with diverse path­ways lead­ing to uni­ver­sity, voca­tion­al ter­tiary edu­ca­tion options or the work­force. There­fore, by neces­sity, it is a very flex­ible sys­tem enabling each school to con­struct its own courses to meet the needs of its stu­dents. Each ‘sub­ject’ or course is com­prised of a num­ber of stand­ards, either intern­ally or extern­ally assessed, which earn credits.

These cred­its may be at an Achieved, Mer­it or Excel­lence level. Most stu­dents study pro­grammes com­prised of five or six courses and qual­i­fy for a cer­ti­fic­ate at Level 1, 2 or 3 when the threshold of required cred­its is reached. For some stu­dents, the par­tic­u­lar Level 3 NCEA they achieve might lead to a voca­tion­al path­way but not meet the require­ments for uni­ver­sity admis­sion. How­ever, those head­ing to uni­ver­sity must under­take a pro­gramme in their final year of approved sub­jects so that they can gain both NCEA Level 3 and Uni­ver­sity Entrance. Also, our uni­ver­sit­ies are increas­ingly demand­ing Excel­lence or Mer­it NCEA grades in spe­cif­ic stand­ards for applic­ants to be con­sidered for those 100-level courses in demand.

The IB Dip­loma is quite dif­fer­ent. Estab­lished in 1968, it is taught in about 2,500 schools glob­ally, with 12 New Zea­l­and schools — both state and private — deliv­er­ing this pro­gramme. The two-year course (Years 12 and 13) has been designed spe­cific­ally for those stu­dents head­ing to uni­ver­sity. Stu­dents study six sub­jects, of which Eng­lish, Math­em­at­ics, a second lan­guage and Sci­ence are com­puls­ory. A 4,000-word exten­ded essay is required, as is a The­ory of Know­ledge course. In addi­tion, there is an oblig­a­tion to under­take 50 hours of ser­vice, cul­tur­al and sport­ing activ­it­ies. The final mark is out of 45, with 30 being the glob­al aver­age. To pass the Dip­loma, a mark of 24 or more is required.

So in response to the ques­tion asked by the journ­al­ist, the two sys­tems are totally dif­fer­ent and really can­not be com­pared. Neither can NCEA grades between schools and across years be eas­ily com­pared as there is no scal­ing. How­ever, with the release of the 2014 NCEA res­ults, I assume there will soon be journ­al­ists put­ting their own spin on the sur­feit of data avail­able from the New Zea­l­and Qual­i­fic­a­tions Author­ity (NZQA) and pub­lish­ing league tables. Such crude stat­ist­ic­al ana­lyses take no account of the dif­fer­ent pass rates between stand­ards, that some stand­ards are more voca­tion­al than aca­dem­ic, and the fact that intern­al stand­ards have a sig­ni­fic­antly high­er pass rate than extern­al ones.

There­fore, it is a case of under­stand­ing where an individual’s skills and abil­it­ies lie. And that is what I told the report­er: it is a student’s future dir­ec­tion that always mat­ters the most, and choice allows stu­dent to pick the qual­i­fic­a­tion that best mar­ries up with their aspirations.

Carol Craymer

Carol has an MA in English from the University of Canterbury and has been principal of Queen Margaret college since 2004. Prior to moving to Wellington, she was assistant principal at Orewa college and deputy principal at Takapuna Grammar. However, Carol is not all about 'dotting the is' and crossing the t's'. She has also worked for Radio New Zealand as an announcer, acted in England in a theatre troupe touring schools and raised two daughters.