Course innovation in the senior secondary curriculum

This report provides evidence of the extent of course innovation in the senior secondary school, as at July 2007. This evidence has been gathered to inform the work of the Ministry of Education as they make wider policy decisions about senior secondary education.

The report documents the findings of a web-based survey used to take a snapshot of the extent of subject and assessment innovation in the senior secondary school in mid-2007. Principals were contacted by email and given password protected access to the survey, which was to be completed by a staff member with a good overview on the school's curriculum. The survey remained live on the Internet for 10 days. During this time, 141 schools visited the site and 124 schools completed and submitted their survey. These schools were a good representation of the full diversity of settings in which secondary school students learn.

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The survey addressed the following questions:
1. To what extent are schools providing courses assessed by AS from across traditional subject boundaries, either within one learning area or across several learning areas? What are their main reasons for doing this?
2. To what extent are schools mixing and matching achievement and unit standards to create innovative courses? What are their main reasons for doing this?
3. To what extent are courses assessed by achievement standards from different levels in the same subject? What are the main reasons for doing this?
4. How aware are schools of the achievement standards for sustainability? If they know about them, do they intend to use them?

Key Results

Of the 124 schools completing the survey, just eight did not give examples of some sort of innovation—that is, 94 percent of responding schools had at least one of the four types of innovation to report. Innovative assessment design was reported more often than innovative subject design:

  • Most schools (89 percent) indicated that they assessed some courses with mixes of achievement standards (AS) and unit standards (US). Examples were most commonly given for English, mathematics, and sciences, were more common at Levels 1 and 2, and the standards used were most likely to be the National Qualifications Framework (NQF)- registered “academic” US, not Industry Training Organisation (ITO)-registered standards.
  • The greatest reported use of Industry Training Organisation (ITO) standards was in the technology learning area, where innovative courses were reported to be offered at all three NQF levels.
  • As schools were restricted to three examples we cannot be sure of the extent to which innovative assessment with combinations of AS and US was also happening in other curriculum areas.
  • Three-quarters of the schools (75 percent) reported offering at least one course that was assessed by standards from more than one level of the NQF. Such courses were most common in English and mathematics (but not at Level 3 in mathematics).

Two-thirds of schools also reported innovative subject design. The open comments, and responses to questions about the new sustainability AS gave indications that some schools are actively considering more such changes:

  • Two-thirds (67 percent) of the responding schools described at least one type of innovative subject that was assessed with a combination of AS from within a learning area. This was happening at all levels of the curriculum, in many schools at two or even all three levels. Examples of innovation were reported for every learning area across the full breadth of the curriculum.
  • Subjects assessed with a combination of AS drawn from different learning areas were the least common type of innovation, with 11 percent of schools reporting at least one such course.

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