8 Dec 2023

Literacy, numeracy tests as NCEA requirement 'detrimental' to learners

6:41 am on 8 December 2023
student doing exam

File pic Photo: 123RF

A leading education researcher warns new high-stakes NCEA literacy and maths tests could do more harm than good.

New Zealand Council for Educational Research chief researcher Charles Darr said the new government needed to rethink the plan for the tests and "decouple" them from the NCEA.

From 2026 students would not be allowed an NCEA certificate until they had passed all three tests in reading, writing and maths.

They would be allowed to sit the tests several times a year.

Though the tests were not yet compulsory, students were able to start sitting them this year.

However, failure rates earlier this year were as high as 46 percent in writing and numeracy and principals and teachers had warned that some students might never pass.

Darr said the system would not be fair on the students who struggled most.

"What it will mean is that for many learners, because they'll find it difficult to pass the test, they'll either have to keep on trying until they do before they can get their NCEA awarded or they'll give up and they'll never get the NCEA award that is due to them in terms of all the other things that they've shown they can achieve," he said.

"That can be very detrimental for many learners who can't get that recognition ... we've got to be really careful we're not punishing the students for being let down by a system of education."

Darr said schools needed other options for assessing literacy and numeracy and meeting the requirements should not be a prerequisite for receiving an NCEA qualification.

Literacy and numeracy could be a separate qualification, or they could be included in the NCEA certificates in the same manner that standards from other subjects were included.

"You can still achieve NCEA level 1 in terms of meeting its requirements but you can also show that you've got your literacy and numeracy on the same certificate or on a second certificate that you add to it," Darr said.

He said NCEA gave students credit for what they could do but the tests risked taking New Zealand back to old-fashioned qualification systems like School Certificate which "sieved" students and allowed only 50 percent to pass.

Earlier this week market-led think tank the New Zealand Initiative also said the tests should not be an NCEA requirement because the failure rates were too high.

The initiative's senior fellow Michael Johnston said it would not be fair to make the tests a condition of the NCEA until students had had the benefit of better teaching of maths, reading and writing in primary schools.

He said until then, literacy and numeracy should be certificated separately from the NCEA qualifications.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs