Teachers are happier and students better behaved but low-decile schools are struggling to keep up, a survey of secondary schools shows.
The findings come from the Council for Educational Research's three-yearly survey of secondary teachers, principals, trustees and the parents of secondary school students.
NZCER senior researcher Cathy Wylie said it showed the NCEA had become the central issue for principals and teachers.
"It's replaced funding as the biggest issue facing schools," she said.
The NZCER has run the survey every three years since 2003.
It was sent to all principals, two trustees and one in four teachers at all 313 state and state-integrated secondary schools last year, with 182 principals, 1777 teachers, 232 board of trustee members and 1242 parents and whānau responding.
Of those surveyed, 65 percent of principals and 51 percent of teachers said the NCEA workload was a major issue for teachers, and 53 percent of teachers said motivating students was a major issue.
Dr Wylie said the survey showed schools had made no progress on other aspects of the curriculum, such as ensuring students had key competencies, like independent learning, and co-operation.
"The focus has gone to raising the level of achievement in NCEA, but it's raising the question of what can we do to improve the overall quality of education."
She said it was heartening to see fewer teachers, principals and trustees saying student behaviour was a problem at their school.
Other findings from NZCER survey:
- 77 percent of teachers felt under pressure to improve students' NCEA results
- 51 percent of teachers said NCEA assessement had narrowed the curriculum for their students
- 14 percent of principals found government funding was sufficient.
- 51 percent of principals said funding was a major issue.
- 62 percent of schools have a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach to technology.
- 7 percent of parents said their child was not attending their first choice school.
- 74 percent of parents said they got good information about their child from their school, up from 53 percent in 2009.
Only 15 percent of principals rated student behaviour as a major issue, compared with 26 percent in 2012 and 33 percent in 2009.
Dr Wylie said the decrease was probably due to the impact of the Positive Behaviour for Learning scheme.
She said the survey also showed the government's attempts to help schools make better use of new technology were working.
However, Dr Wylie said it was clear there was a digital divide between rich and poor, with decile 1 and 2 schools finding it harder to get students to bring their own digital devices to school.
Those schools generally faced greater challenges than higher-decile schools.
"In areas where we've seen progress, yes, those schools have made progress, but not enough to close that gap."
Low-decile schools had the most difficulty finding teachers and were more likely to report problems with student achievement, motivation and behaviour.
Dr Wylie said decile 1 and 2 schools clearly needed more resources so they could help their students progress.
Secondary Principals Association president Sandy Pasley said the improvement in student behaviour was probably because of new approaches such as the Positive Behaviour for Learning scheme.
But she said students might also be seeing greater value in schooling.
"Maybe students are realising that it's really important to get good qualifications and to get a good education in the present climate."
Ms Pasley said concerns about teachers' NCEA workload indicated schools needed to make greater use of external assessment.
"To do that something's got to be looked at seriously between the differences in pass rates between internal and external," she said.
Post Primary Teachers Association president Angela Robert said teachers were frustrated with a lot of the work associated with the NCEA.
"There's a lot of busywork that goes on that we don't see necessarily adds to the robustness in our judgements, in our marking, and all of the other work around NCEA," she said.
"There is a frustration with the type of workload I guess, that NCEA is putting on our desks."
Ms Roberts said one solution would be to reduce the amount of double-checking of the NCEA grades that teachers give, and focus that moderation work on the teachers who needed it most.