The fall-out from this week’s Level 1 NCEA maths exam continues, with Minister of Education Chris Hipkins ordering a report from NZQA and an open letter being signed by maths teachers. Education Central talks to a student who took the exam.

The Level 1 maths exam for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) has been under fire since students took the test on Monday.

All three papers – Tables, Equations and Graphs, Geometric Reasoning and Chance and Data – came in for criticism.

A NZ Herald article claimed the newspaper had been ‘inundated with complaints from parents and students who feared their academic futures had been placed in jeopardy.”

But the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) defended the exam.

Deputy chief executive of the assessment division of NZQA Kristine Kilkelly said she believed the test was in line with the national curriculum.

“The level 1 mathematics examination was set by a team of experienced mathematics teachers, for the right curriculum level, and is consistent with the specifications for the standard,” she said.

“Students may find some questions in examinations more difficult than others, especially those parts of the question aimed at excellence. Parts of the examination will be challenging, but students often do better than they expect.”

By the following morning, a draft letter of complaint had been signed by 23 maths teachers from around the country.

One concern expressed by teachers in the media is that surprising and difficult exams are unhelpful in promoting maths as a subject.

“Students are told that maths is a difficult subject or it’s hard, whereas it doesn’t have to be any of those things and having these exams which throw students off doesn’t help our goal of trying to make maths a thing that is enjoyable and interesting for these students,” Kāpiti College head of maths Jake Wills told RNZ News.

Motueka High School year 11 student Esme* sat this year’s Level 1 maths exam and said she found it difficult, despite studying hard for the assessment.

“I did a reasonable amount of studying, however maths is not my strength and I have never really found it easy. But I did my best to study the content we had been taught,” she says.

“I found the Geometric Reasoning paper to be manageable and I think that since it was a topic that we had spent a lot of time on this year, I was more confident with that.

“However the Tables and Graphs paper I found harder. I do want to stress that I had a very good teacher who was committed to helping us prepare.”

Esme says many of her classmates found the exam very difficult and had similar concerns about the different papers that made up the assessment.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he had asked NZQA to provide a full report on the exam.

“No-one wants to see students and their families upset, believing that the exams were unfair,” he said.

“NZQA has said it is confident in the level the exam was set at. I have asked them to provide me with a full report on the matter.”

NZQA declined to comment on the requested report.

This is the second year in a row NZQA has been criticised for a maths exam. In 2016, teachers said a mid-year Level 1 exam was too difficult, and a Level 3 exam included an error that made a question impossible to complete.

*Surname omitted

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