Auckland Grammar decries free NCEA credits

I’ve been sent a copy of an e-mail from Tim O’Connor, the headmaster of Auckland Grammar to the CEs of NZQA and the Ministry of Education. He beautifully sets out why the Government’s decision to just hand out free NCEA credits this year is a terrible one. The e-mail is below:

I write to express concern about today’s announcement.  The points I raise below do not require a response, and are not a criticism of NZQA as such, as there are multiple contributing factors when making a decision to make changes to the 2022 qualifications.  These are changes that will add to the demise and credibility of our national qualification.  

  1. NZQA is using the same solution as was applied in 2021 but the problem is very different this year. LRCs were applied last year to level the playing field for Auckland students, but this year all schools have been impacted equally. The situation this year calls for a different solution
  2. The NZQA announcement suggests that these measures are intended to mitigate the impacts of “absences of students and teachers, as a result of COVID-19, (which) have had a substantial impact on teaching, learning and assessment”. The issues apparently being addressed, therefore, are: teaching & learning and low attendance, but NZQA’s solution is to adjust the national qualification rather than to address the 2 primary issues
  3. Absences this year could be for COVID isolation, sickness such as the Common Cold, unjustified absences and other reasons.  This year’s awarding of LRCs is precedent-setting as it isn’t a pandemic-related ‘temporary measure’; instead it is a reaction to low attendance nationally (for any reason).  It implies that there is an attendance threshold, below which a student may be eligible for bonus credits. This sets an ambiguous precedent for future years, since Ministry attendance targets sit below 70% until 2024
  4. Level 3 students with good attendance are likely to have accumulated at least 10 credits already, perhaps in all of their subjects. Since UE now only requires 14 credits in 2 subjects and 12 in a 3rd, final year students could finish their school year now. NZQA’s announcement encourages students to count the credits they have earned already and then calculate when they can stop learning, given the addition of the Learning Recognition Credits (LRC). This measure may actually encourage non-attendance in Terms 3 and 4 for those students 
  5. Lost learning may have occurred for students in Term 1 & 2, but this solution doesn’t address the lost learning (due to attendance, sickness, student disengagement). NZQA might have allowed schools to offer more opportunities for assessment for students who were absent earlier in the year, or offered the LRCs for internals completed from 1 August onwards, or for all external standards. Such an approach would have encouraged students to attend school. 
  6. Internationally, most countries are currently looking at ways to resuscitate the learning lost over the past 2 years. New Zealand, by contrast, appears to be attempting to disguise lost learning and accommodate it by reducing what is required to earn the national qualification this year. When the evidence from international tests such as PISA and TIMSS shows that New Zealand students’ performances are already in decline, this contrast in approaches is concerning. By lowering the bar of the National Qualifications Framework even further, the Ministry and NZQA will continue to manufacture results that suggest there is no decline in NZ students’ learning (or achievement) 
  7. There is a message in this decision that external assessment is less important than internal assessment, as the awarding of LRC’s means that many if not most students will not need to sit external examinations in order to secure their 2022 qualification. 
  8. The credibility of University Entrance must start being questioned by universities,  as they protect the entry standard for tertiary education. It would be understandable if universities started setting independent entrance tests as UE loses credibility.

The decision brings into question the credibility of our national qualification and the very purpose of education in this country.  If our national qualification authority is not supporting each secondary school’ s primary purpose to educate our young, and measure their acquisition of knowledge through independent means what message does that present to schools, teachers and parents across the country?  Academic rigour is a thing of the past?  Let’s lower the aspirations we have for children?  As schools it is not your role to be foundational institutions for encouraging every kind of human excellence? 

Those directly involved with teaching on a daily basis know that students will attend and do their best to achieve, if they know that they accountable for doing so. Likewise, they know that if someone will intervene with a measure that elevates their performances without them even having to attend school, it sends the message that the usual standards no longer apply.

By failing to address the underlying problems, NZQA is prolonging the educational damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic instead of working to rectify it. By inflating students’ results and encouraging non-attendance, NZQA is masking and exacerbating the lost learning problem and is prepared to send students off to higher education and the workforce with significant gaps remaining in their knowledge, rather than attempting to provide assistance that would serve students (and our community) better in the long term.  Such an approach is unacceptable to me in the role I hold and it is unacceptable to the community I serve. You will appreciate my views need to be shared with our community, so they understand academic rigour, and accountability for attendance and learning will remain unchanged at Auckland Grammar School, contrary to the messages our Government, NZQA and the MOE wish to send secondary school students and their parents nationally.

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