National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) were introduced as New Zealand’s main secondary school qualifications between 2002 and 2004, replacing School Certificate, University Entrance, Sixth Form Certificate, and University Bursary qualifications.
The intention was to establish standards for national qualifications that recognised a wider range of skills and knowledge. The NCEA framework offers schools and students much greater flexibility in teaching and learning, while maintaining consistency in assessment.
Under NCEA, schools are able to offer whole 'subjects' in the traditional way – or they can use the standards to develop courses to suit the needs of their students.
NCEA is designed to challenge all students, including the most able and highly motivated. Completion of an NCEA qualification is not constrained by a one-year timeframe. More able students can complete an NCEA qualification in less than a year, while other students may need more than a year to obtain a qualification. It gives schools the flexibility to develop a range of programmes to suit the specific needs of their students.
In the past the performance of students in a wider range of competencies and skills was often not taken into account. Exam marks were scaled so that only a certain number of students could pass each year and internal assessment results were scaled to match external assessment results, even when assessing completely different skills.
The NCEA system provides a more accurate picture of a student's achievement as students who gain credits for particular standards must demonstrate the specific required skills and knowledge for those standards.
Since NCEA was introduced, the proportion of students leaving school with qualifications has increased. NCEA and other national certificates are recognised by employers and used as the benchmark for selection by universities and polytechnics. NCEA is also readily accepted overseas, including by universities.
In December 2008 the Minister of Education announced that all curriculum related standards were to be reviewed so that they aligned to The New Zealand Curriculum. The reviewed standards are being implemented over three years: Level 1 in 2011, Level 2 in 2012, and Level 3 in 2013.
More information can be found here.