28 October, 2021
Principal says time to rethink external exams
End-of-year external NCEA school examinations would be a thing of the past if Carmel College principal Christine Allen had her way.
The snapshot judgment is “no longer fit for purpose”, she told the Observer.
It was an opinion Allen said she held before the Government’s decision last week to race senior students back to class from Tuesday this week – ahead of national exams set to start from November 18.
Many in the education sector were blindsided by the sudden decision, made at a time when the Delta outbreak is growing in Auckland. Some had been advocating exams be moved online.
Takapuna Grammar School opted to keep its doors closed this week, with students doing their mock online exams from home as planned.
Westlake GIrls High School has made in-person attendance optional. On Monday it made Tuesday a teacher only day. Year 11, 12 and 13s coming to school were told to attend on staggered days from Wednesday onwards. The school cited dealing with the speed of changes as its reason.
Rosmini College headmaster Nixon Cooper said the school normally held its mock exams at the start of Term 4, but when term start was delayed in early October teachers had instead used this time to gather specific evidence for grades to deal with whatever unfolded.
“The announcement of a return to school on Tuesday was a complete surprise,” he said. Other schools were also gearing up to do more work on internal assessments, while playing wait and see over NCEA.
Carmel’s Allen said she had spent “considerable time” trying to address parents’ very real concerns about reopening. A parent survey had indicated a full turn-out was unlikely.
Until the announcement, schools were only open to young students who had no one to supervise them at home, she said. “Then, suddenly, large numbers of seniors are allowed and all the bubbles of 10 requirements and no mixing are all removed.”
With NCEA being a flexible system there was a range of ways to gather evidence learning, including issuing Unexpected Event grades. This came without the need to sit external exams in person. Like other principals, Allen says the uncertainties of this interrupted year have put added stress on students. They have been studying from home for a cumulative two months plus, first in February, then again from 17 August onward.
“We’ve really focused on our Y13 students and their ability to make sure that they have the best results that they can achieve to undertake the next stages in their careers.”
Once the dust settles, Allen believes a national educational review is needed into whether timed, external assessments are a fair and valid form of assessing students’ learning and understanding of content.
“I think that external exams are no longer a fit in this more modern learning environment.”
Westlake Girls High School cancelled its mock exams early, at the end of Term 3. Principal Jane Stanley said the delayed start to Term 4 had not been unexpected, although it was disappointing for girls missing friends and teachers.
“We are well prepared as a school for any outcome that may transpire over the next few weeks – including NCEA exam preparation, or collection of alternative evidence if exams do not proceed,” she said before news of schools’ resumption.
Westlake Boys High School, principal David Ferguson said: “We’re looking forward to returning to school as and when we are able to.”
Stanley said most students had taken the disruptions in their stride. Parents had helped keep their children engaged. Those who were struggling were given extra help.
The school had been waiting for government mandates around reopening, she said.
“The wellbeing of our students is obviously our top priority and we will do whatever is needed to ensure our staff and students are kept safe.”
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