20 Oct 2021

Principals considering options as exam fears loom for students

8:41 am on 20 October 2021

There are growing calls for the government to cancel end-of-year school exams for students in Auckland.

Generic Library / Students

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Principals told RNZ they had floated options including cancelling all NCEA and Scholarship exams in the region, cancelling level 1 exams, or allowing teens in the region to choose if they would sit exams.

They said students had lost so much classroom time they would be under-prepared for exams and they were especially worried about those who are trying to complete portfolios for subjects like art.

Auckland Secondary Principals' Association president Steve Hargreaves said the recent confirmation that Auckland would remain in alert level 3 this week and next had heightened fears about exams.

"The momentum's growing around cancelling exams because the longer we stay offsite the more poorly prepared students are going to be for sitting high-stakes external exams in a big bloc," he said.

Hargreaves said cancelling exams would give schools certainty and allow teachers to concentrate on assessments that could be used to provide derived grades to replace students' exam marks.

He said Auckland schools might struggle to run exams, which were scheduled to start on 18 November.

"Students may not be prepared, families might not allow their students to come, and if the big schools are trying to hold level one, two and three exams simultaneously then you're actually in a position where you're trying to accommodate 12, 1300, 1400 students on site and if we're under the current alert level conditions it's going to be totally impractical because it's going to be in bubbles of 10," he said.

Hargreaves said a lot of ideas were being raised including cancelling all NCEA and Scholarship exams in Auckland, cancelling only level 1 exams, or keeping all options open as long as possible.

Year 13 student Mercy Timu Moe said students should have a choice, though in her case she would opt to sit her exams.

"I would definitely go ahead with my exams because at the end of the day I can look back and say 'hey, we had lockdown and we still went on with exams, we didn't give up'," she said.

"We didn't work hard for 13 years for our exams to be taken off. Might as well just give it a shot."

Another student, Josiah Aliimalemanu, said he had been talking to his friends about whether exams would happen this year.

"I think I was the only one that wanted to do exams. They just started laughing and said that the evidence [-based grade] is enough for them," he said.

Principals contacted by RNZ had differing views on the matter.

Rangitoto College principal Patrick Gale said the school's students had worked hard to prepare for the exams though he acknowledged their experience of remote learning might be different to students in other schools.

"For the integrity of the NZQA's qualifications and awards, particularly at level 3 and at Scholarship level, it is important that we offer exams where alert level conditions allow," he said.

Carmel College principal Chris Allen said students should be able to choose.

"Giving the students the option, I think that would be a fair way to go because technically in Auckland we've lost an entire term of teaching," she said.

Manurewa High School principal Pete Jones said he agreed exams should be cancelled given the amount of time students had been out of the classroom.

"These unprecedented times need creative and positive solutions to give our rangatahi a positive lift instead of adding extra stress," he said.

Massey High School principal Glen Denham said the government needed to tell schools what was going to happen with exams.

"It's just clarity we need and then we'll get on with it," he said.

The Qualifications Authority refused to confirm if it had considered cancelling exams in Auckland or even if principals had raised the possibility.

It said Education Minister Chris Hipkins would provide an update on Auckland schools today.

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