Research by a Victoria University graduate shows that achieving NCEA credits is taking priority over authentic scientific investigation for Year 11 science teachers and their students.
Since 2002, practical science investigation has become an assessed component of Year 11 Science and Dr. Azra Moeed's PhD research analysed the impact that it is having in classrooms in the Wellington region.
Dr. Moeed says teachers used to take a broad approach when teaching students how to carry out a scientific investigation but are now following a linear process that trains students to pass the NCEA assessment.
She says teachers are using an NCEA template provided for assessment purposes and mostly teaching one type of investigation repeatedly so the students are able to get it right.
"It's more about learning the steps to follow than knowing why they are following the steps," says Dr. Moeed. "Rather than exploring an open ended question students come up with themselves, they are presented with set tasks to prepare for assessment.
"It's promoting a very narrow view of science investigation. Practical scientific investigations should be about investigating and understanding a problem but are actually focused on how to write the correct answer and get the grades."
Dr. Moeed says science teachers are having to balance their reservations about the way science investigation is being assessed with their responsibility to help students achieve NCEA grades.
All Year 11 science teachers in the Wellington region were surveyed as part of the research project and one school, and a Year 11 science class within it, were studied in depth.
Dr. Moeed says while students enjoy hands-on work and say it helps them grasp science ideas, they often take a surface approach and tend to rote learn answers to fulfill the assessment requirements.
"In many schools, teaching, learning and motivation to learn science investigation at Year 11 level are being overwhelmed by the requirements of internal assessment."
Her findings are supported by other research carried out at the University of Waikato and internationally. In the United Kingdom, similar findings have led to changes in the way science investigations are assessed in secondary schools.
Dr. Moeed would like to see an end to internal assessment of science investigation in Year 11 but says if it is to continue, students should be taught different types of investigations in a variety of topics. With the recent realignment of the curriculum and assessment, from this year, investigation will not be assessed in science but schools can continue to assess investigation in biology, physics or chemistry in Year 11 for NCEA level 1.
Dr. Moeed, who graduated last month with a PhD in Education, taught in primary, intermediate and secondary schools in New Zealand for 27 years before taking on her current role as Curriculum Leader and Senior Lecturer, Science Education, at Victoria Universitys Faculty of Education.
Explore further: 85 college students tried to draw the Apple logo from memory: 84 failed