Victoria University staffer defends intent of baffling NCEA maths test video


Students, teachers and parents are upset at the New Zealand Qualification's Authority after students sat an extremely difficult NCEA level 1 maths exam.

Victoria University's head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics has come to the defence of a maths test that's left high school-age Kiwis scratching their heads.

Dr Peter Donelan defended the intent of the questions in last week's maths assessment, but is concerned students may not have had enough time to do the paper.

"The problem here is it's a one-hour exam. That's a very short period of time to deal with something that's essentially new," he said.

NZQA had adopted a different style of questioning for the exam, too, which was problematic for students.

Teachers had been told more problem solving would be included in the exams. Can you answer this question from the test?

Teachers had been told more problem solving would be included in the exams. Can you answer this question from the test?

READ MORE: Teachers and NCEA students outraged over difficult Level 1 MCAT algebra exam

"It's too hard and a little bit too unusual. Having said that, they're interesting and worthwhile questions and in principle ought to be within the grasp of better prepared students," Donelan said.

Average students should be able to find enough in the paper to get an achieved.

A question from the exam.

A question from the exam.

"The last question, which is quite interesting, is essentially exploratory.

Try the exam questions here and here, confirmed by Maths NZ and NZGrapher

"If I gave that to a Year 11 student and said take an hour to think about this and see what you can come up with, I would say that's probably not that unreasonable," he said.

Parents are afraid their children will drop maths after this year's difficult exam.

Parents are afraid their children will drop maths after this year's difficult exam.

The first few questions were also non-standard.

In exams it was nice to have a "gimme" question near the beginning that students knew how to answer and helped them become comfortable, Donelan said.

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"It's not that the early ones are hard. I think the way they're phrased makes it a little bit unclear what is expected."

Students who were unsure what to do could have spent too long on the first question, and panic might have then set in. "That may be one of the problems here."


A re-sit of a controversial maths exam which left some pupils in tears is already off the table, the NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) says.

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said on Monday morning a nationwide re-sit was something NZQA "may need to consider" after NCEA level 1 exam which left pupils and teachers "shell shocked".

However a spokeswoman for NZQA said there were no plans in place to initiate a reassessment exercise.

"Early indications from the benchmarking exercise indicate that students have responded as expected to the questions," she said.

"We will follow our usual processes to review the assessment task itself and any necessary amendments to next years assessment."

The exam was developed by "an expert team of six writers and critiquers who have a breadth of mathematics knowledge and assessment experience," the spokeswoman said.

The benchmarking process would be completed this week and schools would be advised of the release of the first marking schedule on Tuesday afternoon.


Hipkins said NZQA had some questions to answer over the exam.

"Exams are exams and they are designed to test kids, but this is something [NZQA] will need to explain."

The level of outcry on the exam pointed to a wider problem, he said, potentially relating to national standards.

The Government's target was that 85 per cent of 18-year-olds would achieve NCEA Level 2, or the equivalent, in 2017.

"It just shows how worried kids are getting about NCEA," Hipkins said.

Education Minister Hekia Parata declined to comment on whether the exam was a concern, and would not say whether she would be making any recommendations to NZQA.

"We are going to leave it to NZQA," Parata's media spokeswoman said. 

"It's not really a matter for the minister but she is expecting to receive some information from NZQA about this."


Aoraki Maths Association president Steve Ross said the exam's content was unexpected. 

He had spoken to one woman whose daughter was in tears after the exam. 

"I think there will be quite a few who would have been very upset by it, who had done a lot of work. This came out and they haven't really been able to get into it at all," Ross said.

"Students were shocked by the content of the paper. I think it would be fair to say that most teachers were very surprised by the way the questions were worded. Certainly it wasn't expected."

The tough exam wouldn't indicate students' skill levels either, which was useful information for teachers, he added.

Before preparing a response to the exam, the Aoraki Maths Association was waiting for the marking schedule to come out, which would show students' chances of getting a good mark in the exam.


Margaret Priest, head of maths at Wellington Girls' College, said the exam was poorly set and required a high level of literacy.

"We had girls crying ... we were just shell shocked by it."

Teachers had been told more problem solving would be included in the exams, and last year there had been some more.

"This year had so much problem solving we almost lost the skill," Priest said.

"You can have some problem solving in algebra but ... you have to have basic skills as well."

There had also been a lack of consultation and notification about how the paper was going to be changed, and a lack of resources, she said.

The Wellington Mathematics Association would be holding a meeting at her school later on Monday to decide how it would respond to NZQA, which set the exams.

The exams were students' first experience of external NCEA assessments.

Wellington Girls' students were tough, resilient and well prepared but they were now disillusioned, when the aim was to encourage students to take maths and science.

"This is so off-putting," Priest said.

"Just about any maths teacher could have set a fairer paper."

The paper had been more a test of what students didn't know than of what they did know.

"It smacks to me of somebody trying to be too clever for words and putting a little twist in as many places as they can."

Teachers were "horrified" by the exam. NZQA had "gone a step too far".

"Nothing will make up for the upset this has caused students and teachers."

Similar exams were held on Tuesday and Thursday last week with schools choosing in advance which one of the days their students would sit the exam on.

Jake Wills, a maths teacher who also runs the MathsNZ and NZGrapher websites, said the paper was for NCEA level 1 students but several questions were set at a level 2 standard.

Several questions were also particularly poorly worded, he said.

Some students had opened the paper and found it so difficult they ended up not answering anything, Wills said.

That meant that if NZQA scaled up the results, it might be able to get the right number of students in each category for marks, but the right students would not necessarily be getting those marks.

Many students would now be expecting to fail, having seen the confusing exam as a sign of things to come, he said.

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 - Stuff


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