High school students at every level exposed to mistakes in NCEA maths exams

Errors were found in exams from Level 1 through to Scholarship exams.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAXNZ

Errors were found in exams from Level 1 through to Scholarship exams.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority has launched an independent review of its processes after mistakes were made in five separate NCEA maths exams. 

The authority had to apologise on Friday for an error in a Level 3 statistics exam, and since then errors in four other maths papers have been revealed. 

The news follows a Level 1 MCAT algebra exam in September that left many students distressed, and in tears. 

MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

Year 11 maths students say they were shocked and confused by the questions in a level 1 maths exam in September.

Hutt Valley High School assistant head of maths Jill Skinner said so many errors teachers distrust the NZQA checking process.

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"It doesn't seem to be doing its job ... I guess we're a bit worried about trusting the NZQA exam writers, and at this stage even possibly looking at alternative exam systems, like the Cambridge exam.

"If we can't rely on the validity of the assessment, and them being accurate for students ... we don't want to be putting our students through sitting papers like that." 

The Cambridge exam system was recognised internationally, and could be used in schools in combination with NCEA, or by itself. 

While NZQA was promising to make allowances while marking the Level 3 stats exam, Skinner could not see how markers could take into account how students felt after being unable to answer questions, and second-guessing themselves for the rest of the exam. 

Kapiti College maths teacher Jake Wills said that, in five years of teaching, he had never come across so many errors at such a high level of exams. 

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He was happy NZQA would look into what went wrong, but said his students had been left frustrated. 

"They expect to be able to go in and demonstrate what they can do, but they're going in and sitting exams where they're not able to demonstrate what they've spent all year preparing for." 

It was disappointing to have students come to him after exams and say they felt as if they knew nothing, when it was the question that was not right. 

"This year's been particularly bad, there's been a large number of errors ... we'd normally see no errors." 

Year 13 Kapiti College student Anna Prendeville was worried the faulty statistics exam would jeopardise her chances of getting top marks. 

​After the Level 3 statistics exam, the 18-year-old went home and cried, feeling her year's work had been stymied by an error in the paper that made it impossible to answer. 

She had not been able to get past the question, which had "really thrown her" for the rest of the exam. 

"We came out shocked ... we couldn't do the entire paper, and we wondered 'What have we done wrong?'

"I'm really glad I'm not in NCEA any more, they seem to have a made a bit of a mess of it." 

NZQA deputy chief executive assessment Kristine Kilkelly said the only mistake likely to have made an impact on students' ability to answer the question was in the Level 3 statistics exam. 

There were also discrepancies in a New Zealand Scholarship statistics exam, a Level 1 NCEA maths exam, a Level 2 calculus exam, and a Level 2 mathematics probability exam. 

Markers would assess whether the mistake in the Level 2 maths probability exam would have made it harder for students, and would make adjustments if necessary. 

The other errors were not expected to have affected students' ability to answer the questions, she said.

 - Stuff

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