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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wgtn 11/11/02

Letter from Wellington
Monday, 11 November 2002

Opposition select committee

ACT MPs have taken the unusual step of setting up, under the chairmanship of Donna Awatere Huata, an alternative parliamentary select committee inquiry into the implementation of the NCEA, that is replacing School Certificate. At ACT's prompting, the Education Select Committee is holding an "official" inquiry, but because National introduced the NCEA and now Labour is implementing it the two old parties voted to restrict the inquiry.

The evidence the committee did receive from the PPTA (an opponent of NCEA!) and from schools is shocking.

ACT is to hold open committee hearings to receive evidence from students, teachers and parents. To make a submission visit our website, or you can email it directly to

Copies of the PPTA and school evidence are on the website.

The NCEA - 10 reasons not to support it

1. NZ students are guinea pigs

The NCEA is an educational experiment never tried anywhere in the world. It is based on an ideological premise that examinations are bad because exams compare student with student and some fail.

2. Simplistic units of knowledge

The NCEA attempts to break knowledge up into 'units' and students are assessed on each unit separately. The units fail to test students on how knowledge can be applied from one area to another.

3. Dumbing-down and demotivation

There are no marks, just four grades: not achieved, achieved, merit and excellence. These are too wide. Students have little idea whether they are improving within bands and that's demotivating. An average six subject pass in SC was worth the equivalent of 144 NCEA credits. Students are now being told by Mr Mallard that an NCEA pass requires only 80 credits.

4. Grossly under-resourced

The constant testing means teachers spend more time assessing than teaching. Where SC markers have always been experienced teachers now a first-year teacher is expected to mark what is in effect a SC paper.

5. Error riddled

Schools use computers for the thousands of assessments required for NCEA but many can not interface with the NZQA computer, causing chaos. The NZQA has admitted marks have been misrecorded and students regraded. School's say students have been recorded as sitting subjects that the school does not offer, and some entries to the November exams have been lost!

6. Inconsistency

The PPTA has told the select committee it is proving impossible to get consistent internal assessment within schools, let alone between schools.

7. A hot bed for cheating

NCEA is a cheats' charter.

a) There are no rules about how often a student can resit a unit. Some schools allow repeated attempts. For a first-time failed student it is an unfair advantage. A good student may on the first test miss a merit narrowly. They are then recorded as having just passed. A poorer student fails in their first and second attempt and then gets an 'excellent' on the third attempt. The NCEA results unfairly show this student as better.

As the units of knowledge for assessment are so small, often there will be only one possible question. After sitting an assessment and being given your 'marked' answer (Privacy Act) which sets out why the answer was wrong, the student who sits twice (or more) has a huge advantage.

b) As schools and teachers are under pressure to perform, teachers can be expected to 'coach' students through. Anecdotal evidence is that the protected part of the NZQA website has been hacked. And some teachers and schools have been using the material inappropriately. Although teachers have always schooled students for exams, the actual exam questions were unknown. In an NCEA internal assessment the teachers do know the questions - and in too many cases so do the students.

c) Homework assignments: some NCEA units are homework. There is no way of knowing whether the content marked is the work of the student, that of his parents or siblings, or copied from the internet.

8. A meaningless qualification

NCEA measurements are so vague and impractical that they are meaningless to employers and tertiary institutions. Universities who use bursary to decide places are already wondering whether the NCEA will prove anything except that a school has allowed repeated attempts at sitting units, let students' parents do assignments and the student had access to the internet.

9. No more international students

International fee paying students bring millions of dollars a year to the NZ economy - why will they continue paying for a qualification that has not been tested and is not recognised internationally?

10. No measurement of success

Trevor Mallard and the Ministry of Education have refused to have an independent group monitoring the NCEA. The country will not know whether large numbers of students have grades they do not deserve until this year's fifth formers reach university. Despite schools asking for a moratorium on the NCEA replacing sixth form certificate next year, and bursary the year after - the government is going ahead. So this year's students will not face real exams until University.

ACT's solution: While the NCEA does work for some subjects, there needs to be a moratorium on the roll out of the NCEA until problems are addressed.

Shock, horror

Yesterday the Sunday Star Times front page had coverage of Mr Peters saying that Labour Department figures show 50% of all Asian immigrants are not in employment. We don't want to give Mr Peters heart failure, but a look at the labour census records show that just 47% of all adults are in employment!

The Asian statistics are explained by the number of fee paying Asian students - around 27,000 who make up 78% of total international students bringing in around $1 billion a year to the NZ economy.

The ever flexible

United Future's website has a Business Update on where they stand with current legislation such as the Climate Change Response Bill. According to the website this bill is flawed and United remains opposed to it.

Oh really?

The United Party voted for the Bill's introduction and then on Thursday at the committee stages there were ten votes. The United were voting with the government four times, against twice, and abstained four times. All things to all people. See .

ACT Wellington Regional Conference

Papers from ACT's successful regional conference in Wellington this past weekend (including the speech and accompanying paper from Roger Douglas) are available on the ACT website:

All previous issues of the Letter can be found at To subscribe, go to To unsubscribe, reply to this email with 'Unsubscribe' in the subject line.

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