James Cote, an expert on grade inflation at the University of Western Ontario, said the NCEA data “clearly indicates grade inflation has taken place”.
But Hamilton’s St John’s College principal Shane Tong said it was a big leap to make.
“I think we’re always trying to raise the kids’ grades and NCEA’s about what the kids can do as opposed to what they can’t,” he said.
“[Increasing results] is exactly what the ministry is asking us to do. They’re wanting an 85 per cent pass rate at level two.”The flexibility of NCEA also meant schools could make programmes which better suited their students.
Ngaruawahia High School’s acting principal Chris Jarnet agreed that the wider range of subjects available was probably helping students pass.
“I know in our case we’ve got a wider curriculum to enable kids to do all sorts of things now, like Maori performing arts. That’s enabling kids to get through and get passes.”
He didn’t think there was anything untoward behind the increased pass rates.
“None of the principals I know would have a bar of that. There are too many checks and crosses now that are on the go,” he said.
A key thing here is that NCEA is about more than the basic curriculum. It is about being able to get a certain level of proficiency in varied areas. It is designed so that more students will be able to leave school with a certificate of proficiency in at least some areas. It is not like School Certificate that was designed to have half the people sit it fail.
Having said that it would not be surprising if there is an element of grade inflation. By its nature with mainly internal assessment, it will never be as rigorous as external examinations.
Both Johnston and Cote raised concern about the impact of a Government target, set in 2012, for 85 per cent of 18-year-olds to be passing NCEA level two by 2016.
“In my opinion that was a ridiculous thing to say,” Johnston said.
“It puts stupid political pressure on the sector to improve pass rates, irrespective of whether it improves learning and it undermines the integrity of standards-based assessment.”
Let’s look at the data on this. Did NCEA Level 2 rates increase significantly after the target was set in 2012?
At Level 2 the large increases were around 2010, not 2012 on.
Former NZQA deputy chief executive Bali Haque, who was responsible for overseeing changes to NCEA from 2006 to 2012, said the increase in pass rates was a sign the system was working as it should be.
“I wouldn’t call it grade inflation. I would say the system is picking up people who are being successful, whereas the system used to drop those people out,” he said.
“We have a situation where more people are being more successful under NCEA because that’s precisely what it was designed to do. You’re entitling people to use vocational standards, you’re encouraging a bit more internal assessment, you’re expanding the range of things that people get credits for.”
Yeah, NCEA was designed so that more people leave with a certificate of what they can do, rather than a transcript of what they couldn’t do.