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Changing and scaling aren’t the same thing

There was, I guess, always some doubt to a purely criterion-referenced assessment system, especially after the use of an excessively norm-referenced one for so many years. Then, when NZQA becomes open about a common practice, changing the marking schedule as inaccuracies arise, it becomes very quickly accused of being "scaling".

Poor Bill English. He must’ve had the time of his life during the last term of parliament — undoubtedly the best shadow portfolio there was. But when the new education minister actually has half an idea of what’s going on, it gets so much harder. He has already accused NZQA of "massaging" the results, which is "scaling by another name", something, of course, that shouldn’t be happening in a standards-based model. Now, last parliamentary term, Trevor Mallard seemed to be out of his mind, and English seemed perfectly rational. Now, English seems out of his mind and Steve Maharey’s got the right idea. English is, in essence, now making a big deal out of nothing.

By the way, a number of people seem to be misinformed on this: the National Party does not have, and has never had, any plans to ditch the NCEA. Furthermore, they were the ones who introduced it.

I guess it’s English’s job to point out the government’s errors. But while errors in the education portfolio were so common in the last term, the re-marking of three English papers, three mathematics papers and an economics paper (as a start) is not an error. Changing marking schedules has always happened — under the old system as well as this, and I’m sure it would’ve happened in NCEA before this year too. Even the best marking schedule cannot allow for every correct answer: assessment is not a precise science, it is a practice where anything can happen, and anything must be allowed for.

Because standards are not being changed; in fact, the schedules are being changed to ensure adherence to them: they are not scaling — perhaps students saw an answer the examiners didn’t (it happens), or the standard wasn’t quite accurately reflecting. The simple truth is that these changes support criterion-referencing — they ensure that it is accurate. Strange statistics would not have mandated a changing of the marking schedule to suit; they would have been a mere trigger the spark investigation, and the possibility that this year’s students are actually dumber or smarter would not have been dismissed.

I don’t think English will have such an easy shadow portfolio this time: Maharey already seems much more aware, and much more intelligent, than his predecessor (and, for that matter, aware and intelligent, fullstop), and will not making things easy for English. And, as we can see here, NCEA is truly, albeit finally, on the right tracks. Hence, there will no longer be endless faults awaiting the opposition to effortlessly point out.

Related links

  • NZQA: NZQA open and transparent about marking process
  • NZ Herald: Authority claims NCEA exams in perfect order
  • NZ Herald: Low results force new NCEA marking
  • Dominion Post: Markers told to try again on more exams

    Bill English is the education spokesman for the National Party, which leads the opposition. Trevor Mallard was the last education minister. Steve Maharey is the current education minister. The NZ Qualifications Authority runs the external examinations. "Scaling" is the process of artificially manipulating assessment outcomes to fit a predetermined distribution, normally a bell curve.

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