The exams don’t work, they just make it worse
The days are lengthening; Halloween gives way to Guy Fawkes and Diwali. The weight of the year begins to lift ahead of summer.
Yet, as you drop a fiver on the sweepstake and gather around the TV for the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday evening, spare a thought for New Zealand’s secondary school students. Few of them will be relaxing. The first NCEA exams are on Wednesday morning: social studies, dance and art history. Thousands will troop into halls and lecture theatres for external exams that have changed very little since you and I sat them.
Students know exams don’t work; they just test one’s ability to regurgitate information.
But when elections roll round, the students don’t vote – their parents do. And parents demand the three Rs and oldfashioned exams. These exams may ask students to solve an algebra problem; they won’t challenge them to take on big, real-life problems.
Teachers have a saying: you can’t fatten a pig by weighing it more often. That is to say, no amount of assessment will help kids learn more. That is why the government’s NCEA review is welcome – and overdue.
More than 16,000 people have made submissions or attended workshops or hui to contribute their thoughts. ‘‘Everyone agrees there is too much assessment going on,’’ review chair Jeremy Baker tells me this weekend. ‘‘We really want schools, kids, to be focusing on the essentials in a subject area.’’
First, we need to stop incentivising students to ‘‘credit farm’’ to get their qualifications at the expense of real learning.
Secondly, information changes by the year (did you really need to learn the capital cities of the world?) but skills are for life. We need people with critical thinking skills, the ability to work together, creativity and confidence.
Finally, we don’t need external exams at levels 1, 2 and 3. Next year’s Level 1 NCEA exams will quite probably be the last. And if our focus is on the future, rather than wallowing in nostalgia like that fattened pig, then the Level 2 and 3 exams should meet their end soon after.