Young people and assessment – whose interests are being served?

“Assessment overload

Students in all schools were experiencing a very assessment driven curriculum and assessment anxiety. Achieving academic success is a part of wellbeing but is not the only factor. Very few schools were responding to this overload by reviewing and changing their curriculum and assessment practices.”

ERO ‘Wellbeing for Young People’s Success at Secondary School’ Report, Feb 2015


So we’ve all seen it, or at least we should have seen it, and by now school leaders and teachers should have not just seen it but had some serious, robust discussion about what can be done to address the issue.

In 2014 and 2015 I taught a cross-curricular Year 11 class with one other colleague, combining English, Physical Education and Mathematics.  We taught these learners for six hours each per week, and built strong relationships with them and their whanau.  During this time we gained a real insight into the pressures put on our learners when all curriculum areas decide to assess at the same time, normally at the end of a term when students are as tired and worn out as the teachers, yet we are expecting them to produce high quality evidence of learning. In conversations with our learners we were finding that on some days they had an assessment on in class, or due, every single lesson of the day. We were fortunate, we had some flexibility with our programme, and so where we could we were able to alleviate the pressure on our learners by supporting the learning that was happening in their other ‘subjects’ and being more flexible with assessment dates.

Now with a son in Year 10 I am starting to see this pressure through his eyes.  Today he had a Social Inquiry for Social Studies due, an English test (an essay to be completed in class and finished in class on Thursday), and a Science test.  He also completed in class today a media studies assessment.  Tomorrow he has a Spanish assessment.  As a student with high expectations, this puts a lot of pressure on him, and starts to negatively impact on his well being.  He is involved in co-curricular activities both in and out of school, including giving of his time to coach a primary school hockey team and umpire the primary schools hockey competition.  So he has a good balance of things going on but it will be these things that suffer if his wellbeing suffers.

From my experience this cluttering of the assessment schedule is influenced by the following:

  • An expectation from school leaders that students get ‘runs on the board’, experience early success in NCEA, and there is assessment data to report to parents, all by the end of Term 1. Therefore assessment opportunities must be given, work must be marked and moderated, and grades entered.
  • Teachers and/or departments impose this upon themselves in order to give themselves the term break (note I did not use the word ‘holidays’) to get their marking done.
  • Subjects and curriculum areas as silo’s in Secondary Schools, and a lack of collaboration in planning, implementing, and assessing teaching and learning programmes.

The biggest thing my son was stressed about this afternoon was his bibliography for his Social Inquiry; he had gotten confused, left it to the last minute, and didn’t feel that he had done a good job.  His comment was ‘oh well, if I don’t get a good grade, at least I learnt heaps’.  Too right!  My comment in return ‘If you get a lesser grade because of a poor bibliography there is something wrong with the marking schedule and not your assignment’.

So, whose interests are being served when we approach assessment in this way? How might we ensure that our young people feel that they have had the opportunity to show us what they know, and really high light their learning?  When will we move from the status quo and start considering alternative ways of assessing learning?  When will schools act on the recommendations below? When will we truly place the interests and wellbeing of our young people at the centre of the why and how we do things?

“Review, implement and monitor

Secondary students would benefit from their school leaders and teachers:

  • involving students in reviewing and making decisions about the quality of their school experiences
  • reviewing their curriculum using The New Zealand Curriculum, in particular the key competencies and the health and physical education learning area, and senior secondary guidelines
  • reviewing their NCEA assessment programme
  • connecting learning areas with sport, culture and leadership opportunities
  • deliberately mapping and reviewing the opportunities for students to explore wellbeing issues, and develop and use key competencies and leadership skills
  • engaging parents, family and whānau in decisions that affect the wellbeing of their young people
  • finding solutions within the school community
  • reviewing the effectiveness of actions by looking for patterns and trends.

The draft indicators are found on”


One thought on “Young people and assessment – whose interests are being served?

  1. Thanks Celia – interesting stuff and very relevant. The realities of (not just) schools is that lots of traditional ‘improvements’ are just another layer of new ‘fix-it-Edu-paint’ on top of the last caot and the one before that…… Schools are scarred that stripping all the paint off, and starting again, will be in the t’oo risky’ and t’oo hard’ baskets.

    (p.s. The link at the end is no longer working and cannot be found)


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