15 Nov 2016

NZQA criticised over post-earthquake exams

8:20 pm on 15 November 2016

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) should have postponed yesterday's NCEA exams, the secondary teachers union and some school principals say.

Massey campus in Wellington is closed.

Massey campus in Wellington is closed. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Several thousand teenagers were unable to sit the six exams because their schools were closed, or had their preparation disrupted by yesterday's earthquakes.

They will now get grades based on their year's work for those subjects.

Cheviot Area School had to close yesterday. Its principal Bob Norrish said the exams should have been delayed.

"We felt that because it covered such a large area, that there should have been some consideration of that taken into account by NZQA and I can't really see why they couldn't have postponed the exams from yesterday, put them on later in the cycle."

Post Primary Teachers Association president Angela Roberts said some members were surprised and disappointed NZQA did not delay the exams.

She said that would have been simpler and cleaner than having some schools offering exams and others not.

Ms Roberts said postponing the exams would have helped not only the students whose schools closed yesterday, but also those students who were tired and upset by the earthquakes.

"There were students who got no sleep for a start, or who literally had to sit on a hill, or who would have not even known how to get to school or if their school was open and any one of those factors would have made it incredibly difficult for them to do the best job that they could."

Flooding also closed schools and disrupted NCEA exams in the Wellington region today.

Aotea College principal Kate Gainsford said the school sent junior students home early because bus services had warned they could not guarantee getting children home later in the day.

She said the intense weather also prevented some students from getting to NCEA exams on time.

"Some of them were gridlocked in traffic and missed the timeframe for being able to enter the exam.

"But most of them were here. But we also hosted 17 students from other colleges who have been unable to make it to their own exam centres across other parts of the city.

However, Secondary Principals Association vice-president Mike Williams said NZQA had done an admirable job in difficult circumstances.

He said the quakes were likely to impair some teens' performance in other exams, but the derived grade process would be useful for them.

"There will be some students in close to the epicentres who this will disrupt their entire exam programme and they're going to need derived grades if their performance is affected right through," he said.

"We need to have a bit of confidence in NZQA - they'll manage the system, they've got the ways of doing it so students won't be adversely affected in the long run."

Education Minister defends post-earthquake exams

Education Minister Hekia Parata said postponing the exams would not have been practical.

"We would in fact have been disadvantaging almost three-quarters of all students who weren't in the earthquake-affected areas if we had cancelled all of NCEA," she said.

NZQA did postpone two exams yesterday - the scholarship history and scholarship chemistry exams. It said that was because it could not give derived grades for Scholarship exams.

A new version of the history exam would have to be developed because some schools did not get the postponement message until after their students had started it, NZQA said.

NZQA deputy chief executive of assessment Kristine Kilkelly said drawing up new NCEA exams so students could have another chance was not practical.

"The exam development process is a major undertaking, and that's because it also has a very big quality assurance process under it to ensure that we have valid, reliable, robust assessment. So it's not really feasible to do that on any grand scale."

Ms Kilkelly said students who missed exams, or felt they did badly because of the quakes, could get a derived grade based on their year's work.

She said they would get those results at the same time exam results were announced in January next year.

Schools remain closed

It appears that most of the 276 schools that closed yesterday reopened today and are offering NCEA and Scholarship exams as normal.

The schools in Wellington, Nelson-Marlborough and North Canterbury had closed while engineers checked their buildings.

Universities and tertiary institutions in the affected area also reopened, but the two Wellington region institutes of technology, Weltec and Whitireia remain closed.

Hurunui College and two area schools in North Canterbury reopened only for exams but bus services to the schools were not running.

The Education Ministry yesterday had doubts about whether schools in the Kaikoura area would reopen, mostly due to access to water.

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