Emails fly over NCEA exam mistakes

MICHELLE COOKE
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2011
NCEA exam
ROSS GIBLIN/FAIRFAX NZ
DIDN'T ADD UP: Tina Chen-Xu, 17, says she was confused by some of the questions in the year 12 maths exam.

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Teachers say the NCEA maths exams that thousands of students have just completed were riddled with mistakes and contradictions.

"I've never seen anything like this in my life before," said Rory Barrett, a maths teacher at Auckland's Macleans College and former head of maths at one of the country's top schools, Auckland Grammar.

He said he had trawled through each maths exam across NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3 and said there were contradictions and mistakes in at least five papers. He has made an official complaint with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), which adds to the pile it has received in the past two weeks.

French teachers complained last week about a level 1 exam that had bizarre references and was at least two years above the year 11 standard.

Barrett said he had exchanged hundreds of emails with other maths teachers in the past three days and the Auckland Mathematical Association held a meeting last night to discuss the issue.

NZQA chief executive Karen Poutasi said three complaints had been received about four particular maths papers and the authority had found one mistake in one of them, the level 3 probability paper.

"It makes the solution to the problem incorrect," she said.

"We are closely monitoring the marking and have advised the marking panel to make sure students aren't disadvantaged."

NZQA markers could use their discretion when marking the papers. The markers were experts in maths and had concluded that there were no mistakes in the other three papers, Poutasi said.

But when asked why NZQA "experts" opinions differed from those of maths teachers with decades of experience, who were also experts in the field, she said there would always be disagreements.

Wellington High School student Tina Chen-Xu, 17, said the level 2 maths exam she sat was harder than she expected and some of the questions were confusing.

"I'm talking about things that are so bad the question doesn't even make sense," Barrett said.

"It's utter rubbish. There are contradictions within the question that makes it not true ... so a kid can't properly answer."

Poutasi said if anyone believed there were mistakes in any of the papers then they should contact NZQA.

Several other teachers Fairfax NZ spoke to also had concerns about the maths exams.

One teacher who is the head of maths at a Wellington school said some of his students entered the exams confident they would pass and left the exams confused.

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"It's quite demoralising for them because they work so hard," he said.

"I wouldn't say they were blatant errors but the questions could be interpreted in different ways."

The level 2 papers were above the year 12 standard and he didn't expect many students to achieve excellence.

Other teachers spoke of how the literacy level for the maths papers was above the general literacy level they expected for the year groups.

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