Review of secondary schools' use of NCEA professional development resources 2005-2006 Publications
The Publication "School/Cluster Based Secondary Qualifications Professional Development - Review of Secondary Schools' use of NCEA professional development resources, 2005-2006" reviews the Ministry of Education funded programme of professional development to support the implementation of Scholarship and NCEA for the period June 2005 to July 2006.
Author(s): Louise Starkey, Susan Stevens, Mike Taylor, Rawiri Toia, Anne Yates, Cedric Hall, Lynanne McKenzie and Luanna Meyer, Victoria University of Wellington, College of Education. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.
Date Published: July 2006
In 2005, the Ministry of Education funded a programme of professional development to support the implementation of Scholarship and the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) for the period June 2005 to July 2006. This package of support built on the work of teachers and schools over the previous four years of NCEA implementation and included needs-based professional learning for schools or clusters of schools. The methodological approach taken to evaluate the school or cluster based NCEA professional development was multi-faceted and utilised several different sources of data. The researchers gathered information from 28 schools, 11 of which were case study schools. The schools were selected to be a representative sample of state and state integrated secondary schools in New Zealand. The summary of findings is organised into four areas: needs analysis, the nature of professional development programmes, perceptions of changes in schools as a result of the professional development, and ongoing development.
Decisions to cluster reflected local contextual influences
Schools across New Zealand were given the autonomy to decide whether to cluster with other schools or to work independently. The principal of each school largely drove the decision and over half the schools in the sample chose to cluster in some way. The decision to cluster and the means by which clustering was organised were determined by a range of influences, specific to the local context. It was more common for teachers of small departments from different schools to cluster together, especially those that comprised a single teacher. In some such cases, a history of clustering precipitated this outcome. Conversely, larger departments were more likely to rely on their own expertise (usually the head of department) to facilitate the professional development and thus interschool clustering was not experienced. In some contexts, established principal networks and/or pro-active regional advisers from School Support Services were the catalyst for clustering. Forty percent of schools in the sample did not cluster at any level of their organisation. The reasons for working independently varied. For wharekura, isolation was identified as a barrier to clustering (the distance to travel to cluster with other wharekura). This contrasts with rural schools that made a determined effort to cluster specifically in response to their isolation. Other reasons for not clustering included needs specific to schools being identified, or the links with other schools not being made early enough. Schools chose when to close for two half days of NCEA professional development. The schools in the research put the two half days together to close for a full day and most (22 out of 28) closed for one day in the first half of 2006, with eleven schools chose to close during March 2006. One school did not close or carry out school wide NCEA professional development. Four out of the twenty eight schools in the sample appeared to have placed a low priority on organising an NCEA related professional development day. Each of these schools was undergoing change within their senior management team. In light of this finding, it is worth considering how the process of change in senior management teams can be managed to minimise lost opportunities for schools.
School-based decision making was appropriate for this round of professional development
Having the choice of whether to cluster or not, irrespective of their own decision, was seen as an important, timely development in the provision of NCEA professional development. Being involved in professional development that acknowledges and meets their needs was of major importance to teachers in the sample. Ham (2005) reached a similar conclusion: that professional development that gave schools relative autonomy in content and delivery was more successful than specific Ministry of Education directed programmes. Given the high levels of self efficacy towards NCEA assessment reported by teachers, the autonomous approach given for schools to make local decisions at this stage appears to have been received very positively.
Use of the needs analysis toolkit provided by the Ministry of Education varied greatly
Responses from the co-ordinators of professional development about the use of the needs analysis toolkit tended to be polarised, with slightly more schools deciding not to use it than those that did. A small number of high decile schools reported adapting the resource to suit their perceived needs. Wharekura chose not to use the needs analysis toolkit as it was felt that it was not appropriate.
Additional funding was spent on NCEA professional development
As part of this Ministry of Education initiative, each secondary and composite school was provided with additional financial resources in their July 05 operations grant. The case study schools reported using this money to support the one day professional development day and/ or for ongoing NCEA professional development support over the year.
The Nature of Professional Development Programmes
Schools used internal and external facilitators to deliver professional development Heads of Department, as subject experts, were heavily used as facilitators irrespective of whether clustering occurred. School support service regional advisors were present at a number of the schools or clusters, sometimes as organisers, often as facilitators and in one instance as participants. Wharekura reported being unable to achieve access to relevant advisors or external expertise. In one case an international educational consultant facilitated part of the professional development. Two other schools involved national educational leaders. Overall, the teacher ratings and comments about the quality of facilitation were mostly positive; teachers were offered content that met their teaching and assessment needs, and facilitators had a good knowledge of the context and needs of participants. Such a response supports a key characteristic of professional development, as identified in early childhood settings by Mitchell and Cubey (2003), that "professional development incorporates participants' own aspirations, skills, knowledge and understanding into the learning context". A few departments within schools had no formal facilitator. In these cases the teachers worked within the department (or alone) catching up on NCEA related activities.
Recent NCEA related professional development was technical in nature
The NCEA professional development programmes carried out on the release day varied, although the majority of schools focused on technical aspects of NCEA assessment for at least part of the day. The technical aspects included: writing assessment tasks; interpreting standards and the criteria for Achieved, Merit and Excellence; marking student work; using or developing exemplars; understanding resubmission procedures; and reviewing amendments to published achievement standards. These findings from the teacher surveys were echoed in the focus groups, which also identified as a focus the mix of unit standards and achievement standards in NCEA programmes. While professional development activities varied, it is clear that the major focus across schools was on achieving or enhancing assessment skills for NCEA. Many teachers reported focussing on the technical issues rather than the theoretical aspects of implementing standards-based assessment. Such professional development is closely aligned to that directed by the Ministry of Education from 2000 to 2002, prior to the implementation of NCEA. There is conflicting evidence vis-à-vis the readiness of teachers to move beyond the technical nature of NCEA professional development. Firstly, teachers themselves expressed confidence in their ability to assess for NCEA and to assess their first subject area both before and after the recent professional development. Secondly, data from the student survey show that students are very happy with how teachers have prepared them for NCEA and are similarly happy with the advice given by their schools about future NCEA qualifications available to them. On the other hand, it is clear from two schools that focused on boys' learning and Year 9 and 10 programmes that their interpretation of NCEA professional development indicated a considered approach to student learning that, in their local context, may raise student achievement in NCEA. However, most teachers were comfortable taking a technical approach to the NCEA professional development at this stage of implementation.
Perceptions of Changes in Schools as a Result of the Professional Development
Teachers identified their ideas about effective professional development
Teachers in this study identified the characteristics of effective professional development and evaluated their own experiences of NCEA professional development. Effective professional development was identified as including a strong focus on participants' subject needs, the understanding of such needs by the facilitator, and the engagement of teachers in examining good teaching in their own setting. The quality of facilitation was identified as a major factor for ensuring successful professional development. Characteristics of effective facilitation include a strong focus on the needs of participants, understanding of participants' contexts, keeping people focused, and preparing key programme goals and objectives. Factors identified as contributing positively to NCEA professional development included useful resources (including exemplars, examples of student work, and assessment guides and marking schedules), a focus on the mechanics of assessment, and a curriculum/content focus relevant to teachers. Factors contributing negatively were participant attitude and the timing, location and convenience of the professional development. While clustering with schools for subject based professional development was identified as the preferred mode of professional development, there was also strong support for school-based programmes. This "dual" pattern suggests the need for those organising professional development to identify the preferences of participants. There were major variations between schools and the assessment experience of teachers in respect of NCEA. Some differences were also found involving gender, teaching experience, and subjects. Overall these variations point strongly to the need for the designers of professional development programmes to take account of all of these factors—school context, clustering or school based, subject, gender, and the experience of participants—when planning and organising professional activities.
Teachers were positive towards the recent NCEA professional development
Most teachers were at least moderately satisfied with their recent NCEA professional development. While the professional development did not meet their ideal notions of effective professional development, there was still good support for their actual experiences. Where teachers were less satisfied, there was evidence of poor facilitation, including; insufficient subject relevance, and timing/ convenience problems, all factors that had been identified as contributing to ineffective professional development. Teachers were generally confident about their knowledge and skills in assessing NCEA, and were willing to participate in further professional development.
Teachers welcome further professional development
Teachers consistently voiced a desire for further professional development. Survey and focus group data offered an overwhelming call for more opportunities to develop their practice. A common theme that emerged in focus groups was that this professional development represented one step of a longer journey.
Further Scholarship professional development is in strong demand
Scholarship was the focus of learning for less than 5% of the teachers in the survey. This reflected the ratio of teachers who identified Scholarship as a learning need prior to the professional development day. However, school management and teachers in 70% of the case study schools identified the need for further Scholarship professional development in the near future. Smaller schools in particular seem to be grappling with how they can provide Scholarship level learning for their top academic students. Wharekura face similar issues and also expressed concern at the lack of mana and reward given to top scholars in Te Reo Rangatira.
The special characteristic of wharekura impacts on professional development needs
The wharekura highlighted that the small pool of teachers able to teach NCEA subjects through the te reo Mäori medium, meant that teachers without experience of NCEA or senior curriculum were often employed. Wharekura have experienced difficulty in accessing qualified advisors for support and needed to adapt the needs analysis toolkit.
Teachers new to New Zealand require further support
Teachers who have experience teaching overseas, but have moved to New Zealand in the past few years, appear to be a group that needs additional support in understanding and implementing NCEA, particularly where they are the only teachers of a senior curriculum area in a school. These teachers appreciated making contact with teachers and advisors beyond their school.
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