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Cheating 'rampant' thanks to NCEA, former teacher says

NCEA standards are so poorly defined they should not be called standards.
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NCEA standards are so poorly defined they should not be called standards.

"Never before have so many done so well for so long, yet learnt so little."

This is the product of our present examination system, used in all state, and some private, secondary schools. It's in turmoil, yet the powers that be do not have the intellect to recognise this.

It is the only system in the world where you can be a "straight-A student", yet be below average.

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Cheating - or at best, bending the rules - is rampant. This was inevitable; both teachers and schools have significant pressure put upon them to pass students.

READ MORE:
* Check out Stuff's School Report interactive
* Constant NCEA testing making secondary school students anxious
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There are many students who are passing standards they would not have passed under the previous system. The tragedy is they have passed and learnt less.

While this may not be true for all subjects, it is certainly true for some of the more academic subjects. One of these that I have significant knowledge of is mathematics.

It is now possible for a student to pass an external standard, such as last year's Level One algebra, with a mark of 18 per cent. And, yes, they still scale grades! But it is now hidden, which is why last year's Level One algebra results seemed a little better than 2015, when it was actually a more difficult paper.

Students have told me that even though they gained a grade of 'M', they know they got most of the paper wrong.

The standards are so poorly defined they should not be called standards. If you took 10 independent teachers to write an assessment for a particular standard, you would get considerable variations in the degree of difficulty in the paper and hence the pass rates.

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Even if the papers were similar, the assessment conditions such as how long students had, how close the practice assessment was to the real one, whether they were allowed a resubmission and whether they got help during the assessment would lead to different pass rates.

Initially the pass rates for internal and external standards were supposed to be similar. Now teachers are expected to get at least 85 per cent of students through the internals. We are doing this not by teaching our students more or better, but by making the tests easier and teaching them less.

For example, the Year 13 statistics course now has about 60 per cent less content and a lower difficulty level than it did 30 years ago. We no longer teach the central limit theorem which is fundamental to elementary statistics and to the understanding of averages.

It is now possible for a student to pass numeracy without doing a mathematics course in Level One. With this, they could go on to be a primary teacher, for which the minimum level used to be UE mathematics. No wonder the secondary intake is slowly getting worse at mathematics. There are a significant number of students - 10 to 20 per cent - who are obtaining "numeracy" without sufficient numeracy skills to cope with the outside world.

The method of marking in mathematics is fundamentally stupid, and I am ashamed to have been part of it in my teaching career. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to have consistency with the grade boundaries. It is also very common for two students to have the same grade yet have significantly differing ability.

Many students are satisfied with a grade of 'A' and choose courses with mostly internal standards as they know that these are much easier to pass. They also choose subjects that are easier, as now all subjects have the same weighting, even though this does not reflect the real world. Remember, an 'A' grade can mean a percentage from 20 to 60 per cent, such is the inaccuracy of our marking system.

If an examination system is good then eventually it works its way around the world, as do most clever ideas. This has not happened with our system; indeed, Britain, which had a similar system, is going back to external assessment for the very reasons I have outlined above.

Our system needs a thorough overhaul by people who have the capacity and knowledge to do it. This is critical and it needs to be done now. I, for one, would love to be part of this process.

* Roy Perrin is a former mathematics teacher at Pukekohe High School.

* Comments on this article have been closed.

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