In time for this year’s NCEA exams and internal assessments, the Ministry of Education and NZQA have made process changes that will ensure many more students with special learning needs have access to the help they require.
NZQA have completed a revamp of the Special Assessment Conditions application procedure, which has simplified the alternative evidence aspect that schools may previously have found a bit cumbersome.
The new streamlined process, which is free to schools and students, uses teacher observations. These are the same observations that teachers are using as a matter of course; the existing measurements of aspects such as writing speed, comprehension, literacy, sight and hearing impairment, and spelling. Using existing evidence will mean that schools can very simply apply for SAC assistance, like a reader and writer, technology support, or just more time for students to complete exams.
Alternative evidence as an application channel has existed for some time, but has been under-utilised, as many schools haven’t been aware of it. Applying for SAC using alternative evidence will not supersede the option to use an external assessment as the basis for application, but rather, it is intended to sit alongside as an option open to schools that might find it more time-convenient or cost effective.
Joss Hukui Leebody is an RTLB teacher in South Auckland and says that the emphasis on simplification should mean that lots of lower decile schools will apply for SAC, when in years past, they may not have been aware that they could.
“I’m now able to go into lower decile schools, where previously, they’ve struggled with SAC, and help them work through using evidence for the application. We’re trying to up-skill teachers where schools might not have had the necessary expertise, to effectively use these assessments.”
SAC provides students with specific learning difficulties or impairments the opportunity to achieve NCEA qualifications just like their peers. This is great for their motivation, sense of participation, belonging, and achievement. The 250 secondary and composite schools that are being provided support to accelerate NCEA achievement will also be supported to help them work out which students could benefit from SAC.
In 2013, nearly 4000 students nationwide benefitted from Special Assessment Conditions, and the team of NCEA facilitators at the targeted schools should help to increase that number by many hundreds.
The streamlined alternative evidence application process will help schools to continue working towards their goal of supporting all students as part of their efforts to improve inclusivity.
The easier to use alternative evidence application process will also help the Government get accurate numbers in order to optimally invest in technology for the use of learners with special needs. This is a firm Government priority in the medium term.
NZQA deputy chief executive of qualifications, Richard Thornton, gives one example.
“At NZQA, we are trialling the use of technology that will allow the student with say, reading difficulties, to continuously listen to a recording of the exam. If the trial is successful, this technology will be available in 2015.”