By Simon Collins
Students at a South Auckland high school have started a petition against having to sit an exam online – a move which will force some of them to buy new laptops.
A petition against the digital science exam on the website Change.org has already been signed by 75 students at decile-9 Botany Downs Secondary College.
Organiser Chloe Yip says students studying science for Level 1 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) were only told by email last week that they would have to sit a test exam digitally on September 14.
“Before receiving this email, there was absolutely no prior notice,” she says on the website.
Another student told the Herald by email that the exam would force her to buy a new laptop because her existing laptop needed charging every two hours and the college would not allow chargers in the exam.
“I bought my new laptop at the start of Year 9 ready for college. It met the requirements of [at least five hours] battery life and 13-inch screen and that it could be supported by Office 365. Tick, Tick, Tick,” she wrote.
“But shocker, since Year 9 this laptop has started to derail off its expectations only proving two hours of battery life and becoming slower and slower in process.”
In a recent online test for genetics, she said, “I had to flick through each slide till I found the right one and waited and waited for it to load. This caused me a loss of time and my NA [Not Achieved] grade.”
“Was this a big scam for me to spend my money AGAIN?” the student asked.
“A little too dramatic I suppose but it underlines the fact that does my school really want me to get another one just to meet the requirements for one exam?
“In an email sent by the head of Level 1 Science, he states that NO chargers are allowed as it’s not possible to supply power outlets for all 450 students as well as an expectation of our laptops having five-plus hours battery life.”
The student said some subjects were suited to online exams, but science was not.
“The subject of science would be harder to do online due to the handling of graphs and equations which are quicker and easier to do by hand,” she wrote.
Yip says on the petition website that sitting the test digitally will be “a disadvantage to the less privileged students compared to the students who grew up learning how to type and use computers”.
“If the school were to implement such act, they should at least provide aid for underprivileged students, but I have not seen any after-school clubs or advertisements teaching them how to type,” she says.
She says the test is likely to be on a platform called Education Perfect, which she says allows students to copy their work on a clipboard and pass it to other students who will sit the test later.
“If this situation were to occur, it would be a huge disadvantage to those who sat the examination first. It would be a better idea if the platform were to fix such problems before the school actually start using the tool to assess their students,” she writes.
She also says it’s “baffling” that students have to sit the September “practice test” digitally but will then sit their end-of-year NCEA exams on paper.
“The inconsistency of the two exams [is] baffling and making us complete our exams online defeats half of the purpose why there are practice exams in the first place,” she says.
The NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has introduced the digital mid-year Level 1 science test for the first time this year as part of a series of trials aimed at making all NCEA exams available online by 2020.
Deputy chief executive Kristine Kilkelly said the authority was in touch with Botany Downs Secondary College to ensure it had the resources and support it needed for the trial.
“Our young people are living in a global, digitally connected world,” she said.
“NZQA wants to ensure we support our young people to have the skills they will need to succeed as part of a global workforce. Part of this work is our digital trial and pilot examinations.
“Many schools are already using digital technology in nearly every aspect of their teaching and learning. It makes sense that students should be assessed with technology they are familiar with.”
She said previous digital tests have replicated traditional paper-based exam, but the new science test “uses videos and animations, which students can control and play as often as needed”.
“Questions are also answered with a mixture of text responses, manipulating graphs, drag and drop features and using a formula editor,” she said.
“Student results from NZQA’s digital trials do not count towards NCEA. They are an important opportunity for schools to test how ready they are for online examinations and for students to experience assessment in a digital format.
“As with all digital trials and pilots, we will evaluate the digital science trial in relation to how effective the features are in supporting the students’ ability to understand and respond to the task.
“We work alongside schools throughout the year to ensure they are prepared, schools and students are able to opt in and opt out as they feel comfortable.”
NZQA says 6199 students from 97 schools participated in the digital trial tests last year, and 4226 students from 54 schools sat pilot digital exams which counted towards NCEA.
Since 2014, almost three quarters of NZ secondary schools and around 30,000 students have sat at least one online exam.
“Our recent evaluation of the 2017 digital trials and pilots show that we are on the right track, with close to 100 per cent of students indicating they preferred doing an online examination rather than written examinations,” Kilkelly said.
Botany Downs Secondary College principal Karen Brinsden said students would be able to sit a paper-based test if they experienced any “challenges” with the digital test.
“During the exam students will have access to school devices, should they not have access to one or if theirs currently does not meet the requirements for the online digital assessment,” she said.
She said the college had already been involved in digital trials for other subjects, such as maths and media, and had not experienced any problems with students taking a long time to load pages on their laptops.
She said the trial test would use the NZQA website, not Education Perfect software.
Asked whether digital exams would disadvantage students with poor typing skills, she said: “Quite possibly, however we are being proactive in preparing our students to ensure they are ready for when NZQA moves to have the majority of subject based assessments online which they hope to do by 2020.”