By: Simon Collins

More than 3000 students have been hit by a computer glitch which left many “stressed out” in their first big external exam.

All 3631 students who sat their Level 1 English exam online for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) were hit when the central server used for the exam went down for 10 minutes from 11.39am today, just over two hours into the three-hour exam.

NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) said it was working with its provider, SONET Systems, “an experienced online assessment provider from Australia”, to find out why the server failed.

NZQA’s deputy chief executive in charge of the digital trials, Andrea Gray, said students were given an extra 10 minutes at the end of the three-hour exam to make up for the time lost.

“Exam centre managers were able to extend the finish time of the exam to make up for any time lost due to technical issues and ensure students have the full three hours available to them,” she said.

“All students taking part in the pilot exam had paper copies of the exam available if they preferred.”

Mike Williams, principal at Pakuranga College which took part in the trial, said “a couple” of Pakuranga students completed the rest of the exam on paper after the fault occurred.

The other students waited for the problem to be fixed, then took the extra 10 minutes at the end to finish the exam online.

He said Level 1 English would have been the first external NCEA exam for many students.

“They will be a little bit stressed out for their first big exam,” he said.

But he said exam supervisors were trained to allow extra time if any disruption occurred.

“It’s in the same category as a fire alarm going off in the school,” he said.

“A few kids were a bit upset but there was no material damage. I don’t think there will be any material effect on the result.”

Renee Hutchinson, head of English at St John’s College in Hamilton and vice-president of the NZ Association for the Teaching of English, said teachers had full confidence in NZQA protocols to minimise the effect of disruptions.

But she said St John’s College, like most other schools involved in NCEA, had decided not to take part in the online trial this year because it was not a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) school.

“We are still looking for the evidence to show that this actually improves student learning outcomes,” she said.

“There were schools that were early adopters 10 years ago who have swung back the other way now.”

The number of schools involved in the online trials for any NCEA subject dropped from 55 last year to 52 this year.

The latest glitch is the first problem with the online exams this year, but follows repeated problems in previous years since the online exam trials began in 2014.

The authority has set a target of having all NCEA exams available online by 2020, but said last month that it would still offer only 14 of the 61 NCEA subjects online in 2019, and effectively conceded that some subjects would not go online until after 2020.

“We will further expand the range of subjects in 2020 and beyond,” it said.

Today’s glitch affected students at 38 schools which had opted to sit Level 1 English online – about a tenth of the 420 schools where students are sitting NCEA, and representing 8.5 per cent of the 42,792 students sitting the exam nationally.

Gray said NZQA contacted all 38 schools “to find out more about what students experienced and provide reassurance that we have processes in place that can and will be implemented to ensure no student is disadvantaged”.

“The issue has been identified and fixed by our provider,” she said.

She said the Level 2 Media Studies digital pilot exam this afternoon “proceeded according to plan” with no computer problems.

Source: NZ Herald

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