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Minister introduces new distinction awards

08 February, 2005
Media Statement

Minister introduces new distinction awards

Associate Education Minister David Benson-Pope has acted to ensure lower than expected pass rates in some scholarship subjects will not disadvantage students.

A Ministry of Education and NZQA report commissioned by Mr Benson-Pope has identified subjects where the number of scholarship passes is less than would have been expected based on the ability of the students involved. While a certain level of variability was expected under the new standards-based exam system, he says in some subjects that variability has gone beyond what the Government or the general public would consider acceptable.

"There is no one reason for this outcome," says Mr Benson-Pope. "But I take it very seriously and my first priority is making sure no students will be disadvantaged because of it – neither their future opportunities nor financial circumstances.

"For this reason, in those subjects where students have done exceptionally well at NCEA level 3, and the subject is under-represented at scholarship, we will be introducing a 'distinction certificate' in recognition of their achievement. At the same time there will be a new 'distinction award', meaning students who have a combination of scholarship passes and distinction certificates in any three scholarship subjects, will be eligible for an award of $1500 per year for three years.

"This new award, as well as a package of new awards which was announced last week, will mean around 215 more students will be eligible for financial honours. This largely mitigates the financial impact of the variance in the 2004 results."

Mr Benson-Pope says the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has already held discussions with universities around interpretation of the 2004 results.

"No tertiary courses exclude students who have not achieved scholarship results. But, scholarship students of any subject who feel they have been marked incorrectly or graded wrongly can resubmit their exam papers for reconsideration in the normal way."

Mr Benson-Pope says the Ministry of Education and NZQA report he received confirms that the level expected of our top scholars under this new exam system is extremely high.

"The New Zealand Scholarship system has not been designed to give a predetermined number of passes but rather to test students on a level considered to be comparable to first-year university study," said Mr Benson-Pope.

"Those standards were set by tertiary and secondary educators who developed the New Zealand Scholarship scheme to extend our very best students. It appears that in subjects like physics, chemistry and biology, those standards may be demanding more of students than is currently realistic.

"There are many factors that have come into play. Certainly it appears that one of the most significant factors influencing these results has been moving from a system that used scaling to produce the desired result, to one that does not. It is difficult to compare the old system with the new because the former measured relative performance, the new system measures absolute performance.

"The architects of the New Zealand Scholarship decided for many good reasons to move away from scaling. Our expectations may have to change under a system without scaling because we are not trying to reward students for a ranking but for achieving certain standards.

"Having said that, I believe the system can, and should, deliver more consistency between subjects."

Other reasons identified for the variability in results include:
- Some schools entering a relatively high proportion of their students in an exam designed for an elite group
- Variation in the specification of scholarship standards between subjects. For example, subjects like media studies and art history do not have an official national curriculum statement
- Some subjects, especially languages, have small numbers entered and are influenced by first language speakers or those who have been emersion students, which explains high performance rates
- Significant variability in the preparation of students for scholarship exams
- Students being unable to explain complex scientific ideas using appropriate language

Mr Benson-Pope says more work will be done to minimise the level of variance between subjects for those sitting scholarship exams in 2005. This will include NZQA and the Ministry of Education improving the information and support given to teachers to improve their preparation of students.

The Ministry of Education has already begun a review of the curriculum. In addition, a planned review of scholarship standards following this first year of implementation will go ahead as planned, although there is no intention to make these exams easier.

NZQA has also been told to enhance its early alert and analysis processes for future New Zealand Scholarship examinations.

Scholarship: Questions and Answers

What was new about scholarship in 2004?

Just about everything. In the early 1990s scholarship was discontinued as a separate exam. Since then scholarships were awarded to students based on the scaled results of their final year examinations. The practice of scaling ensured approximately the same proportions of students achieved scholarships in each subject. In 2004 the new New Zealand Scholarship used a separate examination in each subject. Scholarship standards were set by tertiary and secondary educators who developed the New Zealand Scholarship scheme to extend our very best students. These standards have been set at a very high level – considered to be comparable to first-year university study.

What is the problem with the 2004 results?

Overall the number of students gaining scholarship, as well as the number of students passing certain subjects, particularly the sciences, was significantly lower than would have been anticipated based on past scaled Bursary results. While it was always expected that a certain level of variability would occur under the new standards-based exam system, the variability has gone beyond what the Government or the general public would consider acceptable.

Why has this happened?

A report from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has identified a number of reasons for the variability of the results. These include:
- Significant variability in the preparation of students for scholarship exams
- Students being asked for the first time to explain complex scientific ideas using appropriate language and being unable
- Some schools entering a relatively high proportion of their students in an exam designed for an elite group
- Variation in the specification of scholarship standards between subjects. For example, subjects like media studies and art history do not have an official national curriculum statement
- Some subjects, especially languages, have small numbers entered and are influenced by first language speakers, which explains high performance rates

What is the Government doing?

In those subjects where students have done exceptionally well at NCEA level 3, and the subject is under-represented at scholarship, we will be introducing a 'distinction certificate' in recognition of their achievement. At the same time there will be a new 'distinction award', meaning students who have a combination of scholarship passes and distinction certificates in any three scholarship subjects, will be eligible for an award of $1500 per year for three years.

Will these results disadvantage students?

No, the Government has acted to ensure no students are disadvantaged. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has been instructed to hold discussions with universities around interpretation of the 2004 results and the new awards. Very few tertiary courses select students based on scholarship results alone and the Government has acted to be sure those students who deserve a place on a university course, get that opportunity. The creation of the new 'distinction' award, as well as a package of new awards which was announced last week, will mean around 215 more students will be eligible for financial honours. This largely mitigates the financial impact of the variance in the 2004 results

Will this happen again in 2005?

More work will be done to ensure the level of variance between subjects is reduced for those sitting scholarship exams in 2005. As mentioned the new New Zealand Scholarship scheme will always contain an element of variability. The system has not been designed to give a predetermined number of passes. The old scholarship system measured relative performance, the new system measures absolute performance. The NZQA and the Ministry of Education will be improving the information and support given to students and teachers to improve the preparation of students. The Ministry of Education has also begun a review of the curriculum. In addition, a planned review of scholarship standards following this first year of implementation will go ahead as planned. The NZQA has also been told to enhance its early alert and analysis processes for future New Zealand Scholarship examinations.

Isn't this symptomatic of greater problems with the NCEA?

No. The New Zealand Scholarship is not made up of unit or assessment standards and is not part of the NCEA or the National Qualifications Framework. The level expected of our top scholars under this new exam system is extremely high. As many commentators have remarked, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with NCEA, although the implementation, as with any new system, has been challenging. In hindsight the introduction of level 3 NCEA and the new scholarship examination in the same year, was ambitious.

ENDS

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