Update on Digital Assessment trial for NCEA (e-MCAT)

NZQA announced further details about the e-MCAT trial last week in an email to its Principals & Nominees network (email on May 7 from Richard Thornton, Deputy Chief Executive, Assessment Division; NZQA granted permission for me to discuss its contents here).

The gist of it:

  • the trial will take place in September, alongside the regular MCAT
  • It will be a practice assessment that will not earn credits, nor will it count towards NCEA
  • up to 20 schools will be involved
  • the trial will use an electronic version of the 2013 (modified) MCAT assessment
  • it’s still just a trial –

The trial will be used to evaluate the method of assessment delivery and assessment marking, and whether both meet best assessment practice. Feedback from the students and teachers as to the format of the assessment will also inform any future work and development around digital assessment.

For more information, they directed readers to the new area of the NZQA website that I mentioned in my post last week:

If you have any questions or would like any further detail please view the innovation pages (http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/about-us/our-role/what-we-do/where-are-we-going/), recently added to the NZQA website, that outline what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been thinking about in terms of the future and digital assessment.

The specific information about the e-MCAT trial can be found by clicking on the “What we’ve been doing” post-it note at the bottom of the page in the website that the email mentions.

Ask your school’s Principal or Principal’s Nominee to see the email if you want to read the original (I’m not sure if NZQA intended for me to reproduce the email here in its entirety, so to be safe I’ll make you go find it yourself!)

But wait –

hasn’t the Ministry of Education just announced consultation for a proposal to change the MCAT to an Internal assessment?

Yes, on Monday it was announced that the Ministry want to remove the MCAT and change AS91027 (Algebra) into an internal assessment. The very same MCAT that NZQA want to change into a digital external assessment.

I spoke to Sue Chalmers, Manager of Secondary Examinations at NZQA, about this apparent contradiction.

When I first heard about the consultation it appeared that the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, but Sue clarified a couple of things for me. She explained that regardless of what happens to the MCAT in the future, with regard to trialling a digital external assessment this year the MCAT is still the most convenient one to trial, because it’s not in the external assessment system with the rest of the November exams.

Whatever NZQA learn about running digital assessments from this trial will still be relevant and useful for other externals whether the MCAT remains an external or not. At the same time, whatever NZQA learn about assessing the MCAT specifically through running the trial will still be relevant and useful for the AS91027 standard whether it remains an external or not. The MCAT may or may not be administered by NZQA in future (depending on the outcome of the Ministry of Education’s consultation) but it could still be set up as a digital assessment which schools could administer as an internal assessment whenever their students were ready (as with other internals currently). It would just be a different organisation that designs this digital internal assessment, for example NZAMT or some other interested group.

I’m encouraged that the word is starting to get out about the coming changes, and I’m glad that my initial fears that NZQA & MoE weren’t aware of each others’ plans for the MCAT were unfounded. I’m still a little concerned though that the whole notion of assessing digitally hasn’t really penetrated the collective consciousness of the secondary education sector.


We need to be teaching with ICT and e-learning tools. It’s no longer optional. Digital assessment is coming very soon, and our students need to be familiar with the tools.

I’ll keep you posted with updates as I learn more. In the meantime, be sure to check out the NZ Maths & Statistics ICT Community to share your ideas and use others’ resources.



Have your say in the Ministry of Education’s consultation about whether AS91027 should remain an externally assessed standard (the MCAT) or become an internal. Visit the TKI website for details and to download the consultation forms. Consultation ends on Friday 20 June 2014.

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).

Teaching equivalent fractions – five cognitive difficulties to address

This post is less about e-learning than about maths programme design in a wider sense, but it was inspired by reading a study on e-learning resources. I came across this statement when reading a PhD thesis from Arla Westenskow at Utah State University (you can find the original doc here). The thesis was about using physical and virtual manipulatives (applets etc) to help struggling maths students to learn equivalent fractions.

Five cognitive difficulties many students have in developing equivalent fraction understanding have been identified in the literature: (a) conceptualizing fractions as a quantity, (b) partitioning into equal subparts, (c) identifying the unit or whole, (d) building sets of equivalent fractions, and (e) representation model distractions.

How could this influence our teaching of fractions? I haven’t been teaching long and am just starting to move beyond the basic knowledge-delivery with teaching this topic. If we were to focus on each of these five cognitive difficulties and nail them, what would that look like? What resources can you share or suggest that could be useful for this? For those of you who are already doing this or partially doing this, can you share your insight or experience? Keen to pick your brains.

The thesis goes on to explore and discuss using manipulatives for remediating these five difficulties but the focus is more on the effectiveness of the types of manipulatives (which is why I’m reading it for my e-learning assignment), rather than focusing on the best way to remediate the difficulties from a more holistic programme-design perspective. Thoughts?

You’re Not As Good As You Think You Should Be

You’re Not As Good As You Think You Should Be.

“Oftentimes we are witnessing people’s best moments and yet we are constantly measuring ourselves against them. It is okay for us to strive for these moments, but it is not okay to constantly measure ourselves against them.”

A great reminder! My goal is to keep this in mind this term… while still striving, of course 😛 Check out the full blog post for more gold.

3D Building Blocks

3D Building Blocks

This is a 3D environment for building shapes with cubic blocks. Useful for teaching the relationship between length, area and volume, or for helping students to build spacial awareness and develop understanding of volume and prisms. Also just fun.

This resource is great for interactive whiteboard or wireless tablet, but won’t run on iOS so iPads etc won’t have much luck. It runs on Java so make sure you have the current version.

How else could you use this resource? Add your suggestions!

QR Codes in Maths

QR Codes in Maths

How do you use QR codes in your Maths teaching? Here’s one suggestion on a homework sheet, keen to hear your ideas!

Enabling e-Learning: ICT education network

I was kindly invited by Karen Melhuish from Te Toi Tupu and CORE Education to write a guest blog post for the Enabling e-Learning: Teaching Community blog… you can read it here. Comments / feedback are welcome!

The “guest blog” post is about my trip to Ireland in November 2011, for the AEC-NET Conference. I will be posting in this blog in the very near future about that conference and reflections on what I learned… so watch this space 🙂

Enabling e-Learning is a group in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN), which is an interactive web resource for New Zealand educators. Enabling e-Learning is designed to be a hub for ICT-related education resources and programmes in New Zealand. If you’re an educator in NZ and are not yet a member of the VLN, I encourage you to join up!

How it all started…

Well here’s the first post… the first few posts will be more of a historical narrative I guess, sharing what I’ve learnt in the past four years. After that I’ll post the current steps of my ICT journey, as they happen.

I did my teacher training at the New Zealand Graduate School of Education in Christchurch, and started working at Linwood College in October 2008. The week before I started my new job, the school had 2Touch interactive whiteboards installed in each Maths classroom. I think that’s what really got me into the ICT game – I had to get used to the technology at the same time as getting used to being a teacher, simultaneously learning both from scratch. So for me, right from the start, classroom teaching and ICT have been woven together.

Using the IWB at Linwood College

One of my students using the IWB at Linwood College

The first thing I noticed was that the way I imagined using the IWB did not match the way I could actually use it… In my head I was Tony Stark in his workshop, dragging and flipping virtual icons and text around the board with ease. In reality, I had calibration issues, couldn’t write legibly with my finger so that the software could pick it up properly, didn’t know what the buttons were for on the toolbar of the new software… and I always had an audience of 30-odd (some more odd than others) teenagers to keep me humble!

I realised pretty quickly that even though there were plenty of flashy tools already at my disposal, I would never be able to use them effectively or fluently if I didn’t nail the basics first. So I spent at least a term (roughly 10 school weeks) just learning how to calibrate the board quickly, write on the board legibly, and save the document (called a “workbook” in the 2Touch software) at the end of each lesson. Literally, that was all I did – just used it as an ink-less whiteboard. But since I wasn’t trying to get my head around everything at once, I became really comfortable with the basics. And the more comfortable I became, the bolder I grew about trying the other features available. It started with inserting an image onto the slide and annotating it in class with the students, then I tried preparing a workbook before the lesson to use in the class, and pretty soon I was creating re-usable resources with all sorts of features that made the lessons much more engaging and interesting for the students.

Resource for introducing angles    

A workbook for introducing angles

Algebra resource

An algebra workbook

The lesson here, I guess, is start simple. I have met plenty of teachers who have expensive tools available but have never used them, because it’s such a huge job to learn how to use it all and become comfortable with it. That’s understandable, but then there’s the old adage about how one eats an elephant… one bite at a time.

Start simple, but start something.

Of course, I was still using ICT in a very teacher-centric way, to deliver static information… but it was the first step in my ICT journey.

%d bloggers like this: