The percentage of Year 11 students gaining NCEA level one has fallen to its lowest level in five years because some schools are focusing on level two of the qualification, the Education Ministry says.
The Year 11 achievement rate fell three percentage points from 74.9 percent in 2017 to 71.8 percent last year, but among low-decile schools and Māori and Pasifika students it fell about five percentage points.
The Education Ministry's deputy secretary for early learning and student achievement, Ellen MacGregor-Reid, said the decline appeared to be because some schools were working with students over two years with the aim of acheiving NCEA level two.
"Level one has always been optional and what it looks like is occurring is that some schools are having young people take a two-year approach to achieving NCEA level two and putting less emphasis on the achievement of NCEA level one," she said.
The Qualifications Authority's deputy chief executive of assessment, Kristine Kilkelly, said it identified 90 schools where fewer Year 11s achieved level one and some confirmed that they were working on qualifications over two years rather than expecting students to complete one level each year.
"They'll be taking a longer-term view for the student so we will expect many of the students who didn't achieve level one this year will achieve it in Year 12," she said.
The figures showed the achievement rate for Year 12 students completing level two dropped a percentage point to 77.4 percent last year.
Among Year 13 students, 66.2 percent got NCEA level three last year, an improvement of one percentage point and the highest figure on record, while 49.1 percent achieved University Entrance, an improvement of half a percentage point.
The Qualifications Authority and Education Ministry said attainment had been increasing and some levelling off of pass rates was expected.
Differences in achievement were evident across gender, ethnicity and school decile.
For example, the percentage of Year 12 students achieving the critical NCEA level two qualification was 80.8 percent for girls, 74 percent for boys, 68.1 percent for Māori, 81.2 percent for Europeans, and 69.3 percent for students at schools in deciles 1-3.
Achievement rates for NCEA level three in Year 13 ranged from 76.5 percent in schools in deciles 8-10 to 56.8 percent for schools in deciles 1-3.