New NCEA tests could jeopardise Māori and Pacific students' achievement rates

5:46 pm on 21 October 2022
Teenager studying at desk and doing homeworks

Figures showed lower decile schools generally had lower pass rates than higher decile schools across all three tests. (File photo) Photo: 123RF

New literacy and numeracy tests could lower NCEA achievement rates among Māori and Pacific students.

The warning comes from an independent evaluation of a trial-run of online tests in reading, writing and maths involving 16,000 mostly Year 10 students in July.

A separate report advised it would take a concerted effort across all schools to raise achievement before the tests became a compulsory part of NCEA in 2024.

The July trial had pass rates of 34 percent in writing, 56 percent in maths, and 64 percent in reading.

A similar trial last year resulted in pass rates of 35 percent for writing, 65 percent for maths and 67 percent for reading.

Reports on the trial provided to RNZ under the Official Information Act said some students failed even though other testing indicated they were at the right level to pass, especially in writing.

The figures showed lower decile schools generally had lower pass rates than higher decile schools across all three tests.

Pacific students had the lowest pass rates in all three subjects while Asian students had the highest.

A report by Evaluation Associates said there was a risk fewer priority learners - which included many Māori and Pacific learners, those from low socio-economic backgrounds, and students with special education needs - would achieve an NCEA qualification once the tests were introduced.

It said it was important to consider what actions would help remove the roadblock.

The Evaluation Associates' report said boys were more confident about the tests than girls, but overall they had a lower pass rate.

Differences between boys and girls were greatest in writing with pass rates of 42 percent for girls and 27 percent for boys. In numeracy, 59 percent of boys passed and 53 percent of girls.

The report said "Realm Countries" that used NCEA (Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau) entered 230-240 students in the July trial and did poorly.

Their pass rates were 17 percent in reading, 16 percent in writing, and 17 percent in maths.

A report on the numeracy test marked "confidential" said it was disturbing that the lower quarter of students scored between zero and 12 out of a possible 30 points.

"That suggests that many students are achieving at levels significantly below the requirement and should not have attempted the CAA [Common Assessment Activity]," the report said.

"The median indicates a significant challenge to the assessment team in terms of setting a viable cut-score and to the sector in raising achievement in numeracy."

Read the numeracy test:

It said students showed strength in straight-forward calculations involving multiplication and division including finding averages.

Proportional reasoning, such as applying rates and working with percentages, appeared to be "a significant weakness", and students were also weak in interpreting bar charts.

The report said students did worse in questions that required them to explain and justify their answers.

It said markers noted variability between schools, and some students struggled with the language of the questions.

"While the assessment is about numeracy, the literacy component in interpreting and answering questions is significant."

The Post Primary Teachers Association said the results showed other changes to the qualification should be paused so teachers could focus on literacy and numeracy.

"It's important that after three years of Covid disruption we give students the opportunity to get on top of the new requirement, and do not set them up to fail," union spokesperson Louise Ryan said.

Secondary Principals Association president Vaughan Couillault said he was confident schools could improve their students' chance of success before the tests became compulsory in 2024.

Most of the students who sat the trial tests in July were in Year 9-10 and it was likely older students would be more successful, Couillault said.

Schools now also had a much clearer idea of how the tests would work and what they were preparing their students for, he said.

However, he said improving students' literacy and numeracy was urgent.

The report said it was impossible to know if students' performance was representative of all New Zealand students because it was not known how schools had decided which of their students would attempt the numeracy test.

The report said the median achievement was disappointing and raising the level of achievement "can only be achieved by a concerted teaching effort at levels of schooling prior to Year 10".

No similar report was provided on the reading or writing tests.

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