By: Simon Collins

Exam authorities have abandoned attempts to put senior school exams online by next year for non-literary subjects such as maths, science and geography.

The NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) says trials have discovered that students found it difficult to draw mathematical symbols, formulas, diagrams and maps online.

An evaluation of last year’s trial online science exam has found students split down the middle, with 49 per cent saying they liked it better than a paper exam but 51 per cent saying they preferred paper.

“It took so much time to fill out the equations and having to click on everything, when on [paper] it would take less than 5 seconds to [answer] the question,” one student said.

“And the graphs [were] so bad I tried my best but I still [didn’t] even know what my own graph [meant].”

Another said: “I really disliked the idea of having to click many buttons to make the formula, and that typos were frequently being made and made me spend more time on rechecking my explanations.”

Teachers were even more negative, with 90 per cent disagreeing that the mid-year science trial “has encouraged me to use more digital tools in my teaching”.

NZQA’s deputy chief executive in charge of the online project, Andrea Gray, accepted that the agency could not yet deliver science and maths exams online “in a user-friendly way”.

“Back in 2014 we put a stake in the ground – to make exams online by 2020,” she said.

“We did it to create a beacon and a signpost to schools that this is the direction of travel, and to let schools see that we were prepared to move in line with how the students were learning.

“What we have discovered with subjects like maths is that there are some students where some maths papers have worked well online, but to deliver an exam that all students are able to access – we can’t currently do that in a user-friendly way.”

Out of 62 subjects in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), only three had final exams available online last year, 11 more are being added this year, and Gray said nine more were likely to be added next year.

That leaves 12, including all maths and science subjects, which may eventually go online some time after the original 2020 deadline, and 27 other mainly practical subjects such as technology and visual arts which do not have external exams.

However the evaluations of the three subjects where final exams were offered online last year – English, media studies and classical studies – were positive. An overwhelming 95 per cent of the students who sat those subjects online said they preferred doing them online rather than on paper.

“I [could] edit what I [wrote] easily and fix up the writing,” one student said.

Another said: “I could write my essay faster, could rearrange lines and paragraphs, and easily add/remove parts to my answers.”

There was one big glitch in the Level 1 English exam when the central server went down for 10 minutes. Gray said the provider, Sonet Systems, had not allowed enough space on its server, and that problem was now fixed.

But computer access remains a problem, especially in poorer areas. Only 16 per cent of schools in the poorest three deciles took part in the online trials last year, compared with 33 per cent of mid-decile and 39 per cent of high-decile schools.

Even students at a decile-9 school, Botany Downs Secondary College, started a petition after some were told to buy new laptops to do the online science trial.

Gray said some schools were giving students access to computers through sponsors or local charities such as the Manaiakalani Trust, but there was no national plan.

Online in 2018

  • Classical Studies
  • English
  • Media Studies

Online from 2019

  • Agricultural & Horticultural Science
  • Art History
  • Business Studies
  • Education for Sustainability
  • Health
  • History
  • Home Economics
  • Latin Levels 1 & 2
  • Social Studies
  • Te Reo Māori Level 1
  • Te Reo Rangatira Level 1

Likely to be online from 2020

  • Accounting
  • Cook Islands Māori
  • French
  • German
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Samoan
  • Spanish
  • Te Reo Māori Levels 2 & 3
  • Te Reo Rangatira Levels 2 & 3
  • Tongan

May go online later

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Chinese
  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Earth & Space Science
  • Economics
  • Geography
  • Latin Level 3
  • Mathematics & Statistics
  • Music
  • Physics
  • Science

No external exams

  • Agribusiness
  • Computing
  • Design & Visual Communication
  • Digital Technologies
  • Driver Licence (Class 1)
  • English for Academic Purposes
  • English Language
  • Field Māori
  • Legal Studies
  • Literacy
  • Māori Performing Arts
  • NZ Sign Language
  • Numeracy
  • Pacific Studies
  • Physical Education
  • Psychology
  • Religious Studies
  • Sociology
  • Supported Learning
  • Technology
  • Visual Arts

plus these subjects assessed in te reo Māori:

  • Hangarau (Technology)
  • Hauora (Health)
  • Ngā Toi (Māori Creative & Performing Arts)
  • Pāngarau (Mathematics)
  • Pūtaiao (Science)
  • Tikanga-ā-Iwi (Culture)

Source: NZ Herald

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