2013

Assessment and Other Tidbits of School Culture in New Zealand

I’ve finally figured out the 9 day school system used at Havelock North H.S. and I’ve even determined that I like it.  Even though, it seems a bit confusing this type of scheduling really opens the door for a more balanced school year.   It ensures that every class is held a similar number of times (seeing as holidays usually fall on Mondays and Fridays) and also makes it so that no teacher ends up with that rowdy 5th hour (last class of the day) every single day, or every Friday.   This schedule can also be really good for students because it keeps each day a little bit different instead of always being the same classes each day, requiring students to stay fairly organized.

However, my next big challenge is the assessment system.  New Zealand curriculum is comprised of a variety of internal and external assessments and rather than saying pass/fail or A, B, C, D, F, students reach N– Not Achieved (1-2), A – Achieved (3-4), M – Merit (5-6), and E – Excellence (7-8).   Each of these levels has points associated with it which nearly goes back to the assessment system they used previously with percentage. In order for students to gain university entrance, they must have a certain number of credits, but in New Zealand the credit do not come from completing the work for an entire course, they come from individual assessments.   Many of the teachers (at least in the English department) are a bit worried about this assessment system because they are seeing an extreme lack of motivation at the end of the year from many of their students when they have already completed the necessary credit numbers.  I also learned that they have cream of the crop classes, mainstream courses, and there are also courses with those students who are barely achieving.

Internal assessments could be speeches, static images, creative writing, essays, etc.  Each English class is required to include speeches at some point during the year.  Students are provided with examples of speeches that would receive the marks mentioned above. In one of my free periods, I listened to some of the speeches for my cooperating teacher’s Year 13 class.  One of them was about Donnie Darko and the themes found within it, one compared 1984 and Animal Farm, and another showed a negative perspective relating to the viewing of The Piano in school.   One of the important things to remember and emphasize with students here is that when they write a speech it needs to provide a clear perspective and be backed up with lots of evidence and comparisons.  Each of these speeches also needs to be videotaped so if the National Office of Curriculum ever wants to see one of the speeches to verify the mark given, they can do so.

The videotapes also come in handy if a student wants to appeal their grade.  I find this fascinating, but I do see the value in it.  Having the opportunity to appeal requires students to really take a closer look at their work before deciding if they really think the mark they have received is most appropriate.   So, for example, a student in English class appealed an essay they wrote.  That student would have to fill out an appeal form which then goes to the head of the department.  Both the head of the department and the teacher who marked it will review the assessment and remark it.  What the student needs to understand is that if they do not have evidence as to why they should have a better mark, there is actually a chance their mark could go down rather than up if a teacher looks at it and after reading it a second time doesn’t see as many good things in it as the first time it was assessed.   This teaches students to question their own work and learn when it is beneficial to argue for what you believe in and when it is not.

Another type of assessment required in the curriculum here is a standardized listening test.  In order to prepare for this, students are given practice tests where they must listen to a story and either draw a picture like the story states or to fill in a chart about different people with the correct information.  The actual standardized listening test has an answer booklet with just the questions, audio to read the stories to the students, and a teacher’s manual with the stories and the questions. This test was much more difficult than the practice ones because it actually required students to pay attention to details and look into the texts of the stories at different levels beyond the surface.   I think we should do these here in the states regardless of the fact that I would have probably done terrible on it myself.  Despite that, English teachers both here and in the United States are always talking about incorporating all four language areas: speaking, listening, reading, and writing, but listening is often never targeted specifically.

Some other tidbits—I was informed that not only do the students wear uniforms (except year thirteen), they are also required to have natural hair colors and girls must wear their hair up.  Males need to have their hair cut so it is not touching their shirt and females cannot wear make-up, earrings or nail polish.

Another part of the school culture here is participation in outdoor education including tramps.   I went on my first tramp on a Sunday and Monday.  I left for the Sunrise Tramp with the Year 10 class from Havelock North H.S.  These outdoor education trips all have different levels and distances students need to walk in order to advance to the next level of tramp.  This was a bronze level trip.

We started at Triplex Hut and walked 650 vertical meters to get to Sunrise Hut which is where we stayed for the evening.  After about an hour of rest, we walked another 3-ish hours to Top Maropea Hut and back.  On the way there, the students saw some patches of snow left from winter and were throwing snowballs at each other.   They were so excited to see that little bit of snow, it was hilarious. We also saw Armstrong’s Saddle which is where a New Zealand pilot crashed in the early 1900s.  The next day on our way back, we went down the mountain following the river.  The river water was chilly, but not as cold as being in outside in a Wisconsin winter for a few hours.  We had to cross the river 21 times in order to reach the path back to our starting point. In most parts, the water was only about knee-deep so it wasn’t too bad, but with the wind and the currents it was tricky at some parts. Overall, what I found really unique about their hike is that they do not leave any trace of them being there behind (no banana peels, apple cores, etc.  Whatever they take in, they take back out in rubbish bags.)  Part of this is to detract from the spread of unwanted predators in the area like opossums and deer.

Here is a picture of our map and the group of students who went…

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On the way to Top Maropea Hut…

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The sunrise at Sunrise Hut…

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It was beautiful! I am definitely going to do another tramp if I can!

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7 thoughts on “Assessment and Other Tidbits of School Culture in New Zealand

  1. Wow! New Zealand’s curriculum and school culture sounds immensely different compared Australia’s and the United States curriculum. When reading your curriculum overview I was a bit confused about the 9 day week. What did you mean may nine days? Do classes run consecutively for nine days and then they switch to a new round? As for the grading system, Achieved (1-2), A – Achieved (3-4), M – Merit (5-6), and E – Excellence (7-8). In Australia they use A,B,C,D and E which is still passing. They also use UG (ungraded) meaning the work is done so poorly they will not grade it. This system is different but similar to out grading system. After teaching in their system for a few weeks do you feel that their grading system differs is significantly to ours? Another interesting aspect to the New Zealand curriculum is their ability to appeal grades. I have noticed in my Australia placement they pass almost every student. Students are not held accountable to the work the often times choose not to do. I feel that this is a problem in Australia’s education system. Perhaps if Australia used some of the New Zealand resources they could monitor those students that are simply not meeting school requirements. I have noticed throughout my student teaching that there a huge gap between students that can even read, write, spell and do mathematics. Reading over the New Zealand “tidbits” I do think the uniform regulations are a bit different. You mentioned students may only have natural colored hair and it must be kept up for girls and short for boys and absolutely no makeup is allowed. Is this in all school’s throughout New Zealand or just your school specifically?

    • When I mentioned that Havelock North H.S. uses the nine-day system, I was saying that for each of the nine days students have a different timetable of classes. With this being said, they could have class A third period on day 1, second period on day 2, fourth period on day 3, second period on day 4 and so on. Then each day of the week is designated by another timetable to let you know which schedule out of the nine days to follow. For example, 14 October was a day 6, 15 October – day 7, 16 October – day 8, 17 October – day 1, 18 October – day 3. Does that make more sense?

      The grading system is still fairly comparable to our in that Achieved here is basically like getting a “C” back home. It is passing. Achieved with Merit would then be a “B” and Achieved with Excellence an “A”.

      I’m not sure if the uniform rules are throughout all of New Zealand, but from what I have been gathering, it is the case for most schools with a uniform here.

  2. It sounds like you are having a great experience in New Zealand! The grading system does seem like it would be very hard to get used to. The assessment that you talked about sounds like it would be really interesting to see. I think it would put a lot of extra stress on students at the end of their schooling. I like that they are able to appeal their grades if they are not satisfied. I think it is great that they make the students come with evidence of why they deserve a different grade. Too often students are not satisfied with their grades because they didn’t put enough effort into their work. This eliminates students just complaining about grades because they want a better one even if they don’t deserve it.

    The tramp sounds like it was a great experience! I hope you are able to do another one! I look forward to reading more about your trip!

    • I also like the idea behind grade appeals because it really forces students to question not only their own work, but their motives for grade improvement as well. I absolutely loved the tramp, but unfortunately the second one was rained out so I won’t be able to go the weekend they reschedule it. Overall, I’ve really been learning a lot about the education system here over the last couple weeks and some of it would be great to bring back to the states if it could ever actually happen.

  3. The 9-day school system sounds interesting but clever. It is very smart to have a more balanced out school year because the chance of Holidays is so sporadic. My favorite part of it though is the variety throughout the days. I always liked that in my high school classes when I had art certain days and photography others but I’m sure yours is much more change than just that.

    I have never heard of that kind of assessment system with N, A, M, and E. Even with being so close to you in Australia, I haven’t seen that. I am also in a Primary school though so I’m not sure about the university entrance and number of credits. The lack of motivation sounds just like senioritis in the States. Once students are enrolled in College, the motivation goes away. Here in Australia grade 12 is even done about 6 weeks before the end of the semester. It’s crazy to think about.

    I also find it interesting to hear you have specific classes varied as cream of the crop, mainstream, and barely achieving. The naming of the classes just shocks me, I’m sure it was just verbally told to you and isn’t written anywhere. The States technically have that as well with advanced classes like AP or CP. In Australia I have only seen full inclusion with all the primary students, no matter their learning ability. In my 5/6 grade I have a student at the grade 2 level, which gets a bit tricky at times because if he isn’t engaged he acts out and has behavioral issues.

    I would have to agree with you that the video taped speeches are great ways for the students to learn when it is beneficial to argue for what you believe in and when it is not. It is a very interesting concept that everyone does need to learn when to basically bite your tongue or not- picking your own battles. I still have to think about that at times- when it is worth it or not. The only thing I don’t like about that concept is always videotaping, I honestly hated that every time I had to do that with a speech or lesson I taught. It’s terrifying and intimidating but if it is more of a common assessment, I’m sure the students are quite adapted to it.

    You are definitely right that most assessments don’t focus on listening parts of English. I specifically only remember listening activities in my Spanish classes in High School and College. Like you said though it is one of the four main language areas, it just gets over looked a lot.

    I’m honestly shocked about how strict the rules are for girls not being allowed to wear earrings or nail polish. What harm is that to the school? I’m just surprised that would be a big part of difference among the students, which would cause a problem.

    Your tramp sounds absolutely great but a bit scary with walking through a river about knee deep 21 times. Didn’t your legs get super cold? I love that outdoor education is a big part of your curriculum. It allows variety and engagement across the board for the students. I also really love how excited they got about snow, I get that here all the time. I’ve been told I am so lucky for having a white Christmas and having snow right outside my house. I tell them its not that much fun when you have to shovel it but I do agree its nice to have a white Christmas. My favorite question, however, is have I ever seen a squirrel? That is my all time favorite! I never would have thought that would have been such an interesting topic from anyone. Squirrels are everywhere for us in the States.

    • I can see where the squirrel question would be your favorite one. Life is really about the little things, I’ve learned. Our senior students here left at the beginning of this week (Year 11-13), but they are supposed to be studying for the national exams over the next three weeks. Some come to school to study others stay at home the whole time. I think as far as the strictness goes, not being able to wear make-up or jewelery is all directly related to being a part of the uniform. If they start to let little things like that go, then they would have to allow scarves down the line or other accessory type things. I can sort of understand it, but doing something like this would be practically impossible in the States.

  4. Abeni,

    As a former outdoor educator I was thrilled to hear about the all-class participation in the overnight “tramps”. I found that those types of environmental ed activities were such bonding experiences for both students and staff….. albeit a LOT of work. Sorry #2 got rained out. I heard NZ has a strong EE program – very cool.

    The uniform debate is never ending. I would rather like uniforms and have learned of its merits; never had to enforce or submit to a policy like that myself – even in Catholic school. Of course there were policies about what could be worn. As you said in your response to Trisha, it’s really about the little things…. 🙂

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