21 Jul 2022

Think-tank reveals high failure rate in small trial-run of new literacy, numeracy tests

9:05 am on 21 July 2022

The New Zealand Initiative has revealed high failure rates in a small-scale trial-run of critical new NCEA tests.

No caption

Photo: 123RF

Two-thirds of the 554 teens who sat the writing test failed it, as did a third of the 590 who sat the reading test and the 1000 who attempted the maths assessment.

A report on the results said the assessments were set at the right level, but the failure rate for the writing test was higher than expected.

From 2024 students will have to pass the tests to prove they are functionally literate and numerate and to get any level of the NCEA qualification.

Michael Johnston from the free market think-tank the New Zealand Initiative said given the high failure rate in last year's trial, the tests should not be introduced in 2024.

"We can't of course conscionably put in place a co-requisite that's going to result in two-thirds of students not getting an NCEA certificate," he said.

"We should maintain these standards but have them be a stand-alone certificate of literacy and numeracy so students can be credentialled as having a level of literacy and numeracy that is commensurate with functioning well in a modern, information-rich society."

Dr Johnston said the tests could become a compulsory part of the NCEA in 2027 or possibly later.

He said last year's trial was small-scale, but he doubted the results would be much different in this year's trials, or when the tests were introduced for real.

"The results could be somewhat better than we're seeing in this pilot but I'm sceptical that they'd be greatly better," he said.

Association of Teachers of English vice president Pip Tinning said there was a sense of urgency about the need to bring teenagers' writing up to speed.

But she said the results of last year's trial were not a cause for panic.

"When you first hear that number it is quite confronting. I would expect that when the co-requisite comes in that the results won't be so horrific," she said.

Tinning said Year 9-10 students sat last year's trial but when the assessments were introduced for real, students would sit them when they were ready so they would be more likely to pass and many would be older.

Secondary Principals Association president Vaughan Couillault said there was a problem with children's literacy and numeracy, but last year's trial was not a reliable measure of likely pass rates.

"That particular trial was about testing the mechanics of the test. It was more about ensuring the car was road-worthy and we weren't testing the driver in the car and so the pilots that are happening this year are the ones that are a little bit more rigorous," he said.

The Ministry of Education said last year's trial was small-scale and not representative.

"The mini pilot cohort in 2021 meant the results were not representative and can't be regarded as likely NCEA attainment levels for future learners as most participants in the mini-pilot were Year 9 or 10 ākonga, who will have further opportunities to sit the assessments again," it said.

"This year, over 200 schools, kura, and tertiary providers are piloting the standards. The results and evaluation for both 2022 assessment events will be released in the first quarter of 2023, noting that there is a much larger sample needed to understand national student achievement. Next year we again expect more schools to use the standards."

A report on the trial said the failure rate for the writing standard was higher than expected based on the comparisons with widely-used e-asTTle tests and teachers' expectations.

It said while the number of students involved was not representative "it is worth noting that the patterns around strengths and weaknesses of student responses broadly match those seen in wider studies (National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement, for example)."

The report said most of the teachers involved with the pilot felt they were ready for the introduction of the NCEA co-requisites.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs