New Zealand students given credits for simple tasks

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Students in hundreds of schools around New Zealand are given NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) credits for simple, everyday tasks, an investigation by The New Zealand Herald on Sunday shows.

The simple standards include: applying for a benefit, keeping healthy, talking and listening to a friend, wrapping a gift, dressing appropriately, washing clothes, working in a group, understanding the concept of friendship, ordering groceries either over the phone or in person. One of the standards include coming to school on time and good behaviour for 20 days, it appears on the students records as: "Work and Study Skills: Demonstrate Care and Timeliness as an Employee".

Bill English, Member of Parliament for National and the education spokesman for National, said: "The easy credits demotivated students. Take someone who's struggling with maths and works hard to get four or five credits - and then they see their mate getting three credits for holding a conversation... That's something that children learn when they're 2, 3, 4... It hardly seems credit material."

All those standards are available to any student who goes to a school which is accredited to assess the standard internally. The standards are not made up by the school but are real standards written by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).

The NZQA said, on Friday, that the standards would be marked down as "special supported learning" but recently they went back on that and said that now the credits are "mainstream and not differentiated on NCEA records."

The chief executive of NZQA, Bali Haque, said: "Level one was absolutely basic and the delivery of unit standards was a developing process. There's no doubt that you will find anomalies. The intention here is to recognise the learning that people have done, and give them credit for it."

Mr Haque admits that this system "is not perfect" but is adamant that schools will not exploit the imperfect system as to boost pass rates, unlike in 2004 when Cambridge High School used legitimate standards to boost pass rates. The school used one standard that was titled "Interpersonal Communications: Participate in a team or group to complete routine tasks," and all the student had to do was pick up rubbish in a group. This standard is still available.

The dean of education at the University of Auckland, John Langley, said: "The other standards are meaningless. I turned 51 last week and I still can't gift wrap a parcel - and actually, it doesn't matter. The authority needed to look at what the NCEA standards were and how they were applied."

"It is better to offer people those sorts of simple, unsophisticated qualifications than not to - as long as people understand the purpose," Mr Haque said.

The secondary principals' association head, Graham Young, said: "The NCEA system put pressure on schools to accumulate credits - and the easiest way to do that was to encourage students into internally assessed unit standards. There are some very low-level unit standards which are extraordinarily easy to pass... For people with above-average or average abilities to be using those unit standards is absolute nonsense."

Spokesman, Gilbert Peterson, for the employers and manufacturers association, said: "The titles of particular standards meant nothing to employers faced with a big grab bag of assessments. It's going to cause bewilderment and confusion, quite frankly. Getting credits for doing the washing or talking to your mate is just amazing. Any businessperson reading this would be quite appalled. We're absolutely sure of that." However Mr Haque said that he was confident employers would recognise the standards as basic, and that they were not misleading.