9 Mar 2023

Gaps in exam assistance, despite more students using it

4:20 pm on 9 March 2023

By Luka Forman

A file photo shows university students studying for an exam

The number of students using reader assistance during exams has increased by 1900 to 7200 since 2019. Photo: 123RF

Some students at low decile schools are not getting the exam help they need, despite more students using assistance overall, the Dyslexia Foundation says.

Students who have learning disabilities or difficulties like dyslexia are eligible to have their exam questions read out or their answers written down for them.

The number of students using reader assistance increased by 1900 to 7200 since 2019, while those using writer assistance increased by 200 to 9700.

New Zealand Qualifications Authority deputy chief executive Jann Marshall said this was because of a change to the system meaning schools gathered evidence and applied for assistance on behalf of their students, rather than requiring a specialist diagnosis.

However, Dyslexia Foundation chair Guy Hope-Mayell said students at low decile schools were not getting the help they needed.

The latest figures available, from 2021, show an average of 4 percent of students at decile one schools use the assistance compared to 11.9 percent in decile 10.

Hope-Mayell said when students did not get assistance, they would often disengage with the education system.

"When they disengage, then what we see is an increase in the number of young people before police and the justice system, or with mental health issues."

Māngere College in South Auckland had only one student use reader/writer assistance last year.

Deputy principal Deborah Ward said an issue for them was that they did not have the funding to employ people who could provide assistance.

"Because if you're going to have a reader-writer in the exam, then you need to have a reader-writer throughout the whole year, so that they're getting practice and they're working together."

Friends at other schools had more teacher aids per student then her school did, Ward said.

She welcomed any government funding which could be used for helping teachers to understand how to support dyslexic students or to employ more people to have one-on-one time with them.

Another factor was that students often did not want to single themselves out for assistance, Ward said.

A mother of a dyslexic child, who wished to remain anonymous, said exam assistance provided an enormous relief from the stress her daughter used to feel in exams.

She said her daughter would desperately want to do well, but simply would not be able to complete the exam in time.

"If you can imagine for a kid who's highly motivated and intelligent, what that does to your confidence and your feeling of self worth, it's enormous."

People might think reader-writer assistance gave an unfair advantage, but that was not the case, she said.

"If they actually took the time to spend five minutes with a dyslexic child... they'd actually understand how intelligent these kids are and what an asset they could be to our society in the future."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs