Measuring Learning

When I was out in New Zealand I came across their equivalent of our Scottish Qualifications Authority.  The NZQA are in many ways very similar to our own awarding authority but I did come across one distinct difference which may have some significance for a Curriculum for Excellence.

The New Zealand system uses a system of levels and credit points.  In much the same way as our SCQF uses levels and credit points.  The main difference appears to be that the New Zealand points system directly relates to university entrance , whereas we have to translate our courses into UCAS points.  In other words the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) system is focused upon allowing comparison to made between qualifications, and doesn’t give any indication of the extent to which learning outcomes might have been met by a learner. For example, all Higher Courses are awarded 32 SCQF credit points, regardless of whether a student gains a D or a A.

In New Zealand a school can select from a range of Units, each of which might have a different number of credit points attached, depending upon the standard required.  In addition to the credit points available for completing the unit successfully a student can gain additional recognition by achieving a unit with “Merit” or “Excellence”.  If a student achieves a certain number of Credit points with Merit or excellence at a certain level then their National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)  will record that this has been achieved with Merit.  The following is lifted for the advice to Parents on the NZQA website.g

level 1
  When you have achieved 80 credits from level 1 or higher, you have gained NCEA level 1. Eight of these credits must be from numeracy standards and eight other credits must be from literacy standards. These skills can be assessed in English or in te reo M?ori. Your teachers can tell you which standards provide the required numeracy and literacy skills.
level 2
  NCEA level 2 requires a minimum of 60 credits at level 2 or above and 20 credits at any other level. Credits can be used for more than one quali?cation; so some of your NCEA level 1 credits can count towards NCEA level 2. At level 2 there are no speci?c literacy or numeracy requirements.
level 3
  For NCEA level 3 you will need to achieve 80 credits, of which 60 must be at level 3 or above, and 20 at level 2 or above.

If you gain the required number of credits with ‘Merit’ or ‘Excellence’, your certificate will be endorsed:

  • 50 credits at Merit or Excellence – Certificate with Merit
  • 50 credits at Excellence – Certificate with Excellence

In order to get into university in New Zealand a student must satisfy the following:

  • a minimum of 42 credits at level 3 or higher on the National Qualifications Framework, including a minimum of 14 credits at level 3 or higher in each of two subjects from an approved subject list, with a further 14 credits at level 3 or higher taken from no more than two additional domains on the National Qualifications Framework or approved subjects
  • a minimum of 14 credits at level 1 or higher in Mathematics or Pangarau on the National Qualifications Framework
  • a minimum of 8 credits at level 2 or higher in English or Te Reo M?ori; 4 credits must be in Reading and 4 credits must be in Writing. The literacy credits will be selected from a schedule of approved achievement standards and unit standards.

I particularly like the way that the New Zealand system allows students to accumulate points and gives students and schools the opportunity to create their own curriculum from a set of approved units.  I spoke to one student out there who knew that he was weak in some areas but was able to compensate by being able to accumulate more points in other areas where he had strengths.

So how does this compare with our system in Scotland?

Scottish Qualifications* UCAS points

Advanced Higher Higher     Intermediate 2 Standard Grade SCQF Credit Points UCAS Tariff points
A           32 120
B           32 100
C           32 80
D A         32 72
  B         32 60
  C         32 48
            32 45
  D     A   24 42
          Band 1 24 38
        B   24 35
        C Band 2 24 28

Trying to compare SCQF credit points with UCAS tariff points is like trying to compare apples with oranges. The SCQF credit points only give an indication of the amout of learning time required – with one point translating to 10 hours.

All this came into sharp focus for me on Friday when I visited Jewel and Esk College with senior managers from all East Lothian secondary schools. In the course of a very productive day we learned how the college makes use of units of study and which enables course teams to make up courses to best suit their students – in much the same manner as in New Zealand.  The contrast with schools couldn’t really be more marked with subject departments being locked into course delivery which offers a very limited degree of flexibility and decision making for the teachers – and students.

It set us to wondering if we couldn’t begin to develop a curriculum/assessment model in our secondary schools which made much more use of units of study which had UCAS points attached to them, whilst relating to SCQF levels.

Looking to the revision of the assessment system in Scottish schools I think I’d like to see us try to emulate the best features of the New Zealand system whilst also learning fr the experience of our colleagues in Scottish colleges. 

As a starter we are going to explore the possible delivery of National Units and HNC units in our schools for the coming year.

In order to provide some strategic leverage for this change to take place in schools I’d like to move from reporting attainment from the number of Highers or standard Grades gained to the number of UCAS tariff points accumulated by each student at the end of S4, S5 and S6.