New figures show low-decile schools and boys have been among the hardest hit by changes to University Entrance.
Among the 35,000 Year 13s studying at NCEA level 3 (the level required to get UE) last year, barely a third of those at decile 1-3 schools and just over half of boys got the qualification.
The figures are final results from the Qualifications Authority and show that after reconsiderations the national UE pass rate is 61 percent - slightly better than the provisional figure of 58 percent announced in January, but still short of the 70 percent pass rate for 2013.
The fall follows changes to UE aimed at making it slightly harder and ensuring students are better prepared for degree-level study.
However, some of the changes were regarded as technical and when they were announced in 2011 they were expected to have only a small impact on the UE pass rate.
The changes have affected boys more than girls. Their pass rate dropped 17 percent from 65 percent to 54 percent, compared to a fall of 12 percent from 75 percent to 66 percent for girls.
Low-decile schools also fared worse under the new requirements.
The pass rate for Year 13s in schools in deciles 1-3 dropped 27 percent, from 51 percent to 37 percent. The pass rate in decile 8-10 schools fell just nine percent from 80 percent to 73 percent.
Radio New Zealand reported in February that Maori and Pasifika pass rates fell from about a half to a third. The final figures show those rates have risen to 40 percent for Maori and by just two percentage points to 36 percent for Pasifika.
Chairperson of the Post Primary Teachers Association's Principals' Council, Allan Vester, said historically, boys have fared worse than girls academically, but he was not sure why the UE changes affected boys more.
"They must have been quite a lot closer to only just getting university entrance under the old rules, and so any changes of the rules has been enough to tip more of the boys below the level than previously."
Secondary Principals Association president Sandy Pasley said the disproportionate impact of the changes on lower decile schools was concerning.
"You'd hope it would have been an even decline in the pass rate," she said.
"But maybe it's because students in some schools are on the borderline of achieved rather than at merit or excellence level and therefore they're affected to a higher degree."
Lower decile schools
The chief executive of Auckland's COMET education trust, Susan Warren, said changes to the subjects required for UE appear to have had more impact on students at lower decile schools.
"Many of the young people who were Year 13 last year had made some choices earlier in their NCEA journey that made it almost impossible for them to get university entrance last year, and that was much more prevalent in the low-decile schools just because of the focus that they've had to had on trying to get kids through level one and two."
The principal of decile 1 Porirua College, Susanne Jungersen, said it was not surprising that Maori and Pasifika students have been worse hit by the UE changes than Pakeha and Asian students.
"It would have a far greater impact on Maori and Pasifika because it's such a stretch to cross the material prosperity divide in the first place, and so when you're at a stretch a small change can have a bigger adverse effect."
It is not yet clear how the fall in the UE pass rate has affected enrolment in degree-level programmes at universities and polytechnics, because not all students who get UE are planning to enrol in tertiary study.
However, some universities have reported a drop in their school-leaver enrolments.
The Qualifications Authority said the drop in the proportion of Year 13 students who gained University Entrance did not mean that performance is down.
"We have seen a strengthening of the standard and students being better prepared for university study," it said.