Creating active citizens? Interpreting, implementing and assessing ‘personal social action’ in NCEA social studies

Funding year: 
2 years
Victoria University of Wellington
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2015
Project end date: 
March 2017
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Bronwyn Wood
Research team members: 
Dr Rowena Taylor and Rose Atkins (Massey University Institute of Education), Michael Johnston (Victoria University of Wellington)
Research partners: 
Joanne Wilson, Palmerston North Girls’ High; Kathy Grey, Horowhenua College; Amy Perkins, Bishop Viard College; Mary Greenland, Nayland College.

Project description

This project examines how teachers and students are interpreting and implementing the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) assessment requirements for students to take ‘personal social action’ in senior social studies. It also seeks to support critical and transformative notions of social action, to develop greater understanding of how to effectively assess more ‘performative’ forms of learning.


This research aims to answer the following question:
How do teachers and students interpret and enact the NCEA social studies requirements to take personal social action? 
This will involve working with teachers and students to explore
a. What factors influence teachers’ decisions to offer (or not offer) the personal social action achievement standards?
b. How do teachers assess the social actions that students undertake and how do they facilitate their students’ success?
c. What do students understand the NCEA social action requirements to be and what are their views on the value of the social action standards?
d. How can teachers encourage critical and transformative forms of social action?

Why is this research important?

The introduction of personal social action achievement standards can be seen as part of a wider commitment in education in the 21st century for students to not only to ‘know stuff’, but also ‘do stuff’ with that knowledge. However, early evidence suggests that teachers are now avoiding these performative achievement standards. Furthermore, prior research indicates that while many social studies teachers embrace the transformative potential of social action, they also hold concerns about the risks associated with students taking social action. Research in this area will help to clarify the ways in which teachers and students are interpreting and implementing these personal social action standards, and how teachers could be supported to do this in critical and transformative ways. 

What we plan to do

Data: An explanatory case study will involve:
[1] Developing a national picture of patterns and practices: Data from NZQA enrolments in the social action achievement standards will be gathered to develop a picture of the current uptake of these standards. A survey of senior social studies teachers in New Zealand will be conducted to determine current understandings and practices relating to the NCEA personal social action requirements.
[2] School-based research: University-based researchers will partner with teacher researchers to conduct school-based research on the interpretation, implementation and assessment of students’ personal social action. Data will be collected through in-class observations, semi-structured interviews, document analysis, reflections and focus group interviews with students.
[3] Developing and disseminating best practice frameworks:  The research team will use the findings that have the potential to enhance student outcomes to develop, refine and disseminate best practice frameworks and guidelines.
Analysis: The analysis will follow an inductive and interactive process. Data will be coded using themes that have been generated by the research questions, the literature, NZQA data analysis, survey and school-based research. The data will be regularly reviewed to identify similarities, differences and unique occurrences across the data set.

Our partners

The four university-based researchers have established a collaborative partnership with five teachers from diverse schools. The university researchers have a strong track record in social studies and assessment research. The teacher-researchers are all experienced practitioners who are currently implementing the ‘social action’ achievement standards in senior social studies.
Joanne Wilson, Palmerston North Girls’ High School, Palmerston North
Kathy Grey, Horowhenua College, Levin
Caroline Wallis, Paraparaumu College, Paraparaumu
Amy Perkins, Bishop Viard College, Porirua, Wellington
Mary Greenland, Nayland College, Nelson

The diversity within the research team and school characteristics will provide opportunities to explore the complexities and new possibilities of implementing and assessing personal social action.