Special Assessment Conditions (SAC) for NCEA Exams: How to get free help with alternative evidence.

What are Special Assessment Conditions (SAC)?

When working towards the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), most students undertake internal assessments throughout the year and sit end of year examinations under regular conditions, such as all students together, for a set amount of time, with no talking.

Special Assessment Conditions are changes to those regular internal assessment and examination conditions to enable students with a permanent or long term disability to be assessed fairly.

The disability might be a medical, physical, or sensory condition, or a specific learning disability. Special Assessment Conditions must reflect the usual way that the student learns.

For example, a student applying for extra time for NCEA should have a history of having extra time for assignments and exams.

Special Assessment Conditions include:

  • Additional time to complete work.
  • Reader or writer or both.
  • Rest breaks.
  • Separate accommodation.
  • Use of technology to complete and present work (e.g., computer).


Why might a student with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) need Special Assessment Conditions (SAC)?

SAC may be needed for a student with autism for the following reasons:

  • Handwriting is difficult to read.
  • Handwriting is very slow.
  • Behaviour is disruptive to other students.
  • Require regular breaks.
  • Obsessive compulsive behaviours may take up exam time.
  • Organisational skills and time management skills may mean they do not finish the exam in the usual time allocated.
  • Concentration skills may be impaired in exam situation.
  • Sameness in routines (e.g., if the student usually has a teacher aide they will probably need one during exams).
  • Sensory issues associated with the exam conditions (e.g., large room, bright lights, sound of others’ breathing, clock ticking, scratching writing sounds, room with different lighting) may overwhelm the student.
  • Use of a reader/writer could interfere with the concentration of other students.
  • Heightened anxiety, impairing student’s ability to demonstrate knowledge.
  • Anxiety management techniques may disrupt other students (e.g. breathing techniques).


What Special Assessment Conditions (SAC) are students with autism likely to get?

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), classes autism as a medical condition.  Students with autism are likely to qualify for separate accommodation, but the application should specify all accommodations that help. In order to qualify for additional SAC, the student must also have a specific learning difficulty that has been assessed by an independent professional (for a fee) or by the school gathering alternative evidence (at not cost to the student).


What is an independent professional?

The independent professional is likely to be a registered psychologist with a Level C (or Level 3) Assessor Qualification, who is registered with the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER, http://www.nzcer.org.nz/).  Assessors who are registered to administer Level C tests will have completed advanced testing courses and have had clinical experience in the use of tests and interpreting the results.  Level C tests include individual tests of intelligence and achievement, and personality scales.


How can I apply for free?

Alternative evidence is information gathered by the school through teacher assessment and observation (see Ministry of Education: Tips for preparing an alternative evidence application)  There is no cost to the student or their family.

Listen to a radio interview about getting exam assistance >

Read:  Top Tips for NCEA Special Assessment Conditions (SAC)

What are the differences between a report from a Level C Assessor and alternative evidence?

Both methods should help your child to obtain SAC, should they be eligible.  A key difference is that alternative evidence is free for families, while a specialist report can be costly. You do not need to have both; an application for SAC can be made solely with alternative evidence. If you also have a Level C assessor report, the school should include this with your child’s application and both reports will be considered by NZQA.

A successful SAC application under alternative evidence is not confirmation of a diagnosis; only a registered professional can make a diagnostic assessment.


What is the process of applying for Special Assessment Conditions (SAC)?

First time applicants have different pathway with different deadlines compared with students who have previously had SAC approved.  There are different timeframes depending on whether a student has learning difficulties or has a medical, physical or sensory condition.  Autism is considered to be a medical condition for SAC. While the same assessment report may be used for between one to four years, a new application to NZQA for SAC must be made by the school for the student each year.  So while there may not be any additional reports required after the first year, the schools need to apply to NZQA to confirm last year or change last years SAC.


What does a reader/writer do?

The main aim of the reader/writer role is to help the student overcome their learning disability while ensuring exam conditions are maintained so that it remains fair to other students.  The reader/writer may read the exam paper to the student, or write down the student’s spoken answers, or do both.  The reader/writer will only perform the task that is approved by the SAC and will be in a separate room with the student, away from the other students.


Who needs to find a reader/writer?

The school is responsible to find a suitable reader/writer. However, Altogether Autism suggests that if your child has an aid to help with schoolwork throughout the year (and if they are suitably qualified), it would be beneficial to also have this aide as the child’s reader/writer.


Who can not be a reader/writer?

A reader/writer can not be a teacher, tutor, friend, relative, another candidate, another student at your child’s school, or anyone else with a close personal relationship to your child.


What are the qualifications required of the reader/writer?

NQZA do not specify any qualifications that they require readers/writers to have.  Altogether Autism suggests that families should ensure that the reader/writer knows about autism before working with the child and understands the particular behaviours of the child. Our Prism Professional Development workshops are ideal for training reader/writers to suitably support students on the spectrum. See Prism Professional Development.


What is the Special Assessment Conditions (SAC) application timeline?

Please note that the dates below are estimates based on SAC applications for 2016. Consult your child’s school for definite dates or go to http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/providers-partners/assessment-and-moderation/managing-national-assessment-in-schools/special-assessment-conditions/timeline/


Key dates

March 14 2016: deadline for first time applicants with learning difficulties.

October 1 2016: Applications open for first time ever students with medical, physical and/or sensory conditions (these students can apply at any time during the school year right up until the final exam in December).

See this article for more details: Top Tips for NCEA Special Assessment Conditions (SAC)

Are there alternatives to Special Assessment Conditions (SAC)?

The school may also help to manage the learning difficulty by increasing the internal assessment component of the student and/or by entering the student into fewer external exams.


Concluding Comments

The process for applying for SAC is the responsibility of the school but parents should be proactive. The increased emphasis on alternative evidence by the NZQA and Ministry of Education should make SAC possible for all students who need these for a fair NCEA assessment of their knowledge, skills and understanding. Students, families and educators are welcome to contact Altogether Autism for free support and information.


Original article written by Aimee Harris, Psychologist, PhD. P.G. Dip. Prac. Pych (ABA) M. App Psych. (1st Hons., ABA). (2014), revised and updated by Altogether Autism (January 2016). 


Useful websites

New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) website (http://www.nzqa.govt.nz/)

Ministry of Education http://inclusive.tki.org.nz/


Disclaimer: The statements expressed in this article are the opinions and interpretation of the author only.  While every attempt has been made to present current and accurate information, the information from the sources available is somewhat confusing, and we cannot guarantee that inaccuracies will not occur.  Altogether Autism will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of the information in this article.