Digital assessment for NZ’s NCEA is coming – pilot in 2014

In April last year Dr Karen Poutasi, the Chief Executive of New Zealand Qualification Authority, announced in her 2013 SPANZ presentation that NZQA were planning to run “on-demand, online assessments” for NCEA* external assessments. She gave the move to online assessment an 8-year timeframe:

A lot more investigative work needs to be undertaken before our actual plans and timelines are finalised but we are reasonably confident that we can reach a position within 8 years where most students will be sitting examinations using a digital device.  Moving to on demand assessment is then only one step away and making that next step will depend upon the sector and how all the steps up to that point have been received.

Dr Poutasi went on to say that the MCAT assessment (Mathematics Common Assessment Task) for Algebra will likely be the first assessment to move online:

The Mathematics CAT will be in its third iteration in 2013 and is now established within the senior secondary school landscape. Our thinking is the Maths CAT provides a very good platform to trial and pilot some of the digital assessment elements.

Whilst the move to online assessment is exciting, the choice of standard for the pilot struck me as odd, given that currently the MCAT is the most locked-down of all Maths standards with regard to technology. At present, not a single calculator is allowed in the assessment; and yet this will be the first standard across the entire curriculum to make the move to online external assessment.

Students will finally be allowed to bring in their calculators for the Algebra assessment.

What I found more concerning, however, was that this announcement went relatively unnoticed at the coalface. Most classroom teachers that I spoke to over the next twelve months had not heard this news.

This worries me.

In order to adequately prepare students for digital assessment in the MCAT, we need to be integrating e-learning activities into our Mathematics teaching programmes and assessment preparation. Across the entire country, for every student. Teachers need to hear this. Do spread the word!

And it turns out we don’t have 4-6 years as one might imagine from the 8-year full rollout timeframe. The first pilot is going ahead this September. This announcement was posted in a hidden corner of the NZQA website recently, as well as emailed out to teachers who are enrolled with Language Perfect:

Computer Based Assessment: e-MCAT

Many NZ schools use “Language Perfect” (a computer based tool for learning languages)

Using the same base technology, NZQA is partnering with Language Perfect to pilot a computer based assessment for maths – e-MCAT. This pilot will happen in 8-10 schools from September 2014.

Hear from Craig Smith, one of the founders of Education Perfect.

In April this year, Dr Poutasi discussed the changes in her 2014 SPANZ presentation. She didn’t specifically mention the MCAT, but spoke more to the big-picture changes that NZQA are making and planning.

Students will be able to sit their examinations on computer or on paper with the same questions being offered in both media. We are confident that we can begin to roll this out in some levels or some subjects for the 2016 examination round.

It is important to note that dual assessment will be an interim measure as schools grapple with their own challenges regarding the provision and use of technology in their classrooms. The objective is to reach a point where paper examinations become a thing of the past and all students who undertake external standards will complete the assessment using technology.

I think this is fantastic. On-demand, online assessment will be a massive leap closer to bringing formal national assessment into line with what is known about effective assessment for learning, not to mention the administrative benefit to those marking and moderating the scripts.

But this is scary. It’s scary because teachers need to be integrating e-learning into their programmes. Now. In every school. Which means they need training, they need to be shown tools to try, they need to be given time to play and become familiar with the  tools themselves, they need to talk to each other and share ideas.

If only there was some network set up where maths teachers could easily find and share resources, and discuss issues as they grapple with this monumental change…

Enter the Maths & Statistics ICT Community. Please spread the word about this group where Maths teachers can share ideas, download resources, discuss issues, and network with other Maths teachers who are on this journey.

The journey is no longer optional.

*NCEA is the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, NZ’s  formal secondary school qualification for Years 11-13 (15 to 18 year old students).

Leave a comment


  1. Megan Peldger

     /  May 9, 2014

    Does this mean these tests are going to be multi-choice? I don’t see how the students are going to have the skills to type in multi-step algebraic working and representing things like x^2 correctly (and not as I have).

    Seeing that the working is done correctly awards quite a lot of marks (and rightly so) even if the final answer fails at the last step.

    • Hi Megan, I’m not sure. I’ve wondered the same things. My understanding is that the assessment will be in a custom-built environment using the Language Perfect platform, so my hope is that NZQA & the folks at Language Perfect will take these things into consideration when they design the environment. It needs to be quick and simple for students to use!

      I agree with NZQA’s reasoning that out of all of the externals in all subjects, the MCAT is the most logical one to trial since it’s already logistically separate from the other externals. But I don’t yet see how it will work with regard to content. It’s a skills-based algebra assessment, so arguably one of the hardest to assess in an online environment – I’m not saying it can’t work, just that some serious thought will need to go into the specifics of assessing algebra digitally, over and above the planning for the digital assessment trial of externals in general.

  1. Update on Digital Assessment trial for NCEA (e-MCAT) | stephenmath

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: