NCEA: The Great Learning Robbery – the culprits: the government, editors and, in this instance, Simon Collins

NCEA rates slump at tiny Ngata Memorial College, but school averages improve

NCEA and national standards results are being manipulated in schools, and especially NCEA: the government knows, the media knows, everyone in schools knows (ask any student, they all know too) but why worry about it; the children from families with substantial social capital will shrug off the effects; too bad for the children without.

Making things seem to go well in education allows the government a relatively free hand to maintain its fierce centralised control of education and from there to exclude teachers from genuine participation in policy- and decision-making; also to avoid policies that while they might well improve education – particularly for children from lower socio-economic environments – are removed from consideration on grounds of cost. Why fund for improved learning when the government can get it for free by relying on teachers scamming NCEA? School education at both primary and secondary is weak and heading to the dismal but where schools have control of the testing it is sunlit vistas.

(Note to Hekia: of course you know.)

(Note to Simon: doubling from social issues to education seems to have made you amnesiac about your regular past references to the importance of education to the solution of social issues.)

The main actions taken within secondary classrooms to manipulate results are:

  1. Far more assessment opportunities than regulation allows (this is almost universal) and is the big one: students and teachers have told me it is close to standard practice for students to take their work to the teacher time after time, adding a bit incrementally till finished. This allows schools to push their pass rate to the extremes of the believable and sometimes beyond. Of all the manipulation tactics this is the one that delivers the success in media ratings and in Hekia Parata’s farewell media releases.
  2. Overly scaffolding learning (in other words, setting out more information for student inclusion in their answering than should properly be made available): Mainly done by the teacher directly helping students to scaffold NCEA answers, leaving the student to express it in the form required but often completely uncomprehending about what is being expressed.
  3. Putting information on whiteboard and leaving it there (not so common but it does happen).
  4. Overly detailed and suggestive feedback: a more informal version of 1.
  5. Working in the computer lab to allow cutting and pasting: A digitalised version of 1 and 3.

Literacy can now be passed in nearly any subject – with most passing that requirement before they sit English, as a result, few take English seriously. The students can be passed for literacy, for instance, by drawing a graph, moving the curves correctly and adding a couple of sentences. They are able to pass passing in literacy using credits where the attention is not on the literacy but the ideas contained, scattered around so to speak. Very little English has to be deployed to pass.

The way things are set up allows many students to sidestep challenges, play a game of deep manipulation, just doing enough to meet what is required – leaving an overwhelming feeling of neither caring about learning nor understanding what was supposed to have been learnt. Students are more-or-less saying, if you want me to pass, get me through, but if you won’t someone else will. (This strongly relates to the list above.)

Schools can achieve any pass rates they want; it is simply a matter of being sensitive to believability limits and cheek. Principals keep their hands clean but they know it is happening and put pressure of expectations on make sure it does. It all comes to a crashing end with UE or with external exams, though.

This scam occurs across all secondary schools and particularly intensively in schools that take the Cambridge Examinations. Taking the Cambridge Examinations as well, has the obvious effect of restricting time for NCEA meaning shortcuts are a near necessity. Also, schools taking the Cambridge Examinations are almost certainly ones that have very high examination expectations.

The farce of post-Christmas passes that became a particularly big thing two years ago will serve as a metaphor for the whole sorry matter.

The universities understandably fed up with large numbers of half-literate, unmotivated, and anti-intellectual students turning up at their ivy-framed gated-entrance, lobbied for some consolidation of English and mathematics standards into external exams. The result, a plummeting of marks that not even the ritual head office tweaking could hide. So there was a rush of students back to their local schools early in the New Year for what I call holiday passes. Typically, those students have not so much failed as fooled around in the course of the year making a nuisance of themselves with their distracting behaviour and lack of motivation.

Then, after the results are out, having heard, say, that a friend was going to university at Dunedin to do a physical education course become all interested and beseech their secondary school. The school in return has a vested interest in building up pass numbers. Success by a student in any post-Christmas NCEA sale would necessarily involve breaking NCEA protocols. The teaching or learning would not have been authentic. Students should properly have only been offered a touch here and there by the teacher with the initiative lying very much with the student. There is an additional point; if post-Christmas sale was open to one student it should by regulation have been opened to all.

A newly-appointed teacher, straight from the school of education, was given some post-Christmas students to pass. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Nothing at the school of education had prepared her for this. After tearfully approaching the principal he allocated the students to another teacher and it was all wrapped up in a week. In fact, the local newspaper proceeded to make local heroes of the students and teachers concerned.

But wait for it – unintended consequences? well hardly but apparently. Student numbers at universities dropped (wow! who could have guessed?), putting funding at risk so the universities set aside the legal minimum for university entrance and conjured up something called vice-chancellor’s discretion.

For the government, why put money into the school system to improve results when schools can and do manipulate results for that end on their own initiative? Look at Hekia laughing all the way to retirement on the backs of Maori and Pacific students.

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2 Responses to NCEA: The Great Learning Robbery – the culprits: the government, editors and, in this instance, Simon Collins

  1. Kelvin says:

    A very well known and highly respected academic and researcher writes: An excellent summation of the current situation.

  2. Kelvin says:

    Auckland George writes:

    I hope you get NZ Herald. The Glenfield College story on Page 1 makes little sense … you don’t get result boosts by putting photos on the wall.

    Page A3 gives some school ratings by decile. I see Tamaki College lowly in Decile 1 … much hyped by mischief makers in the David Hodge era to the good folks of Selwyn College.

    Better to come …

    A classic piece by Deborah Hill Cone about arts teaching and creativity and opinion piece by Welty Ings which talks about dangers of statistical rankings.

    The edition gives a bit to power.

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