Monday, January 09, 2006

Apathy Jack writes:

Alright, I promised you bastards I’d answer any questions I got about NCEA. Here are the ones I got (paraphrased though some of them are). Feel free to skip down to the ones that interest you.

What is NCEA?

Oh for God’s sake... Here, go to this thing my old cobber Hewligan has written, which breaks it down pretty clearly.

What’s the difference between the new system and the old?

They really aren’t even remotely similar, but the short version is this:

At least half of everything is now internally assessed. Half (or thereabouts) of your average course is still done in exams, but now you can still pass the course if you get the flu on exam day.

Also, each part of the course is assessed separately. In the old days, you passed or failed. These days (to use an English example) you can pass the Research Project, but fail the Speech, and you haven’t passed or failed English over all.

My kid failed the exam.

That’s not a question.

Why did my kid fail the exam?

Well, there are a bunch of reasons – and you never want to discount the possibility that your kid’s just none too bright – but, discounting the normal problems (stupid kids and/ or teachers) we have encountered the following problem:

The Unfamiliar Text section (what we called ‘Comprehension’ in The Day) of this year’s Year 11 exam has had to be remarked, because everyone was failing. We’ve had some problems with this section in the past, in that we don’t know what the answers will be. I mean: even after my colleagues and I have looked at the questions, we don’t know what the answers will be.

To give you an example, a question might read “Find the language feature in the following sentence: He sat on the big black sofa like a sloth.” Now, the answer schedule will say that it’s a simile. However, there is also alliteration in there, but because that is not on the schedule, it will count as incorrect. (This only really affects English – as far as I’m aware, anyway – the other subjects deal a lot more with, y’know, quantifiable facts.)

Basically, there are a lot of these “teething” problems – fewer now than there were last year, though.

My kid passed the practice exams earlier in the year.

I see.

But they didn’t pass the end of year exam.



The practice exam was marked by your kid’s teacher, who was going easy on him. The external exams are marked more rigorously, by different people. This shouldn’t happen, but it has been happening since the days of the old system. Some teachers go easy on their kids during the year, only to have the kids marked at the end of the year by a harder marker. Hell, sometimes the exam is just harder than the internal practice stuff. And sometimes kids just mess up.

There have been a lot of teething problems. Why didn’t it work right the first time?

Because they didn’t think the system through properly before they introduced it. Every new system will have birth pains; NCEA has had more than some because, in my opinion, it was introduced about three years too early. It needed some more tweaking at the laboratory level before being released into the environment so that we didn’t have to learn some of the lessons the hard way.

How much disruption did implementing the new course cause?

Basically, the new system is very straightforward. Imagine that, instead of the very tiresome task of doing two or three really hard things, your load was eased so that you had to do no hard things, and only seventy-five hundred small things instead.

The paper work for NCEA boarders on the ridiculous, and is enormously time consuming by comparison to the old system. Of course, on the plus side, our records are immaculate. (“Our”, in this context, means: “Teachers at proper schools where the teachers don’t lose things or shred them because they’re being investigated for dodgy dealings”. Must be nice...)

Does the system deserve the flak it’s getting, or is it just a whipping boy for the Opposition du jour?

The latter.

I’m not the biggest fan of NCEA, but it does grate a little when I see National MPs going on and on about how it is an inefficient system that should be scrapped: NCEA was created under National. It was started under a Labour government because Labour won the election immediately prior to it’s already scheduled implementation date.

That having been said I do think that, if NCEA was as bad as Labour was saying it was going to be during their time in opposition, they could have done a bit more to fix it before it was put in place.

Is the new system better than the old one?

It’s better in some ways, worse in others, but you’re never going to find a system that makes everyone happy, and it ain’t going anywhere.

So, should people who don’t know anything about NCEA shut the hell up about it?

Yes. Oh yes.