By: Simon Collins
Video: Students sitting NCEA exams can memorise and repeat previous years’ examplars without penalty, a teacher says. Photo/File
Education Minister Nikki Kaye has issued a “please explain” to the NZ Qualifications Authority after it posted a plagiarised exam paper on its website as an “exemplar”.
The authority, which did not spot mistakes in three maths exams last year, has posted almost identical papers on the 1981 Springbok tour as exemplars of scripts that earned “excellence” grades in the 2011 and 2012 history exams.
But NZ History Teachers Association treasurer Greg Burnard said memorising previous years’ exemplars was “reasonably widespread across the country”.
“MEMORISING AN EXEMPLAR IS NOT GOING TO BE PUNISHED, ESSENTIALLY,” HE SAID. “IT’S NOT SEEN AS CHEATING, IT’S JUST SEEN AS BEING WELL PREPARED.”
Kaye said she would ask NZ Qualifications Authority chairwoman Sue Suckling to explain, and was considering an external review of the authority’s processes.
“I have asked the NZQA chair to meet with me in the next two days so that I can have confidence in the process they will be undertaking to ensure adequate quality assurance and that plagiarism is not occurring,” she said.
“I will also be discussing with the Ministry of Education whether additional work needs to occur independently to look at NZQA’s quality assurance or whether their own review is sufficient.
“I am aware that in the maths review NZQA commissioned an independent panel to review the matters.”
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said NZQA “do seem to have some quality control issues when it comes to exams”.
“We seem to be hearing about more of these cases and that’s something NZQA definitely needs to answer for,” he said.
Burnard, who is head of history at Whangaparaoa College, said memorising exemplars had become widespread since the curriculum was changed from prescribing content, such as specific historical events, to a “generic” system allowing each teacher to choose which topics to teach.
The change means that the questions in external exams for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) have also become generic.
The unit for which the two near-identical answers were chosen as exemplars in successive years is Level 1 NCEA History unit 91006 called, “Describe how a significant historical event affected NZ society”.
The wording of the first question in every exam since at least 2011 has been, “Describe what happened in your chosen historical event.”
The wording of the other two questions in the exam has changed slightly, but in every year the second question asked for more detail about elements of the historical event which the student could choose, and the third question asked about the significance of the event.
“There are minor tweaks with the question year by year, but essentially the question is pretty predictable, so it is open to abuse in that regard,” Burnard said.
“What has happened with generic exams is the answers have become longer and longer. It’s become more and more predictable, so kids really prepare very thoroughly.”
NZQA said in a statement that publication of the plagiarised 2012 history paper as an exemplar was “unacceptable” and the authority “regrets that this occurred”.
“We have removed the two exemplars from our website and we will check all our examination exemplars,” it said.
“Although the two Level 1 History papers are historical and date back to 2011 and 2012, we will be reviewing our current systems and processes to ensure this cannot happen again.”
The agency added: “Given the historical nature of this particular incident, it is very unlikely that we would be able to identify the student whose 2012 examination paper was used as an exemplar.”