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A “void” is still a fail

So, an unattempted exam booklet, for this year, gets marked as "standard not attempted". So what? Is it really that big a deal? Does such a trivial matter really have to turn into one of Bill English’s declining-quality outbursts?

Those with a clear mind won’t be so foolish as to consider this a way around failure. The fact of the matter is, an unattempted paper is a failed one — failed because the student didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in it anyway, or failed because he wanted to spend more time on other standards, whichever way, failed. Why must critics insist on intepreting the mark as neither a pass nor fail? Whichever way, the student won’t have the standard under his belt.

This isn’t some way of abolishing failure. There was never an intention to abolish failure, and no, renaming it as "not achieved" doesn’t count because really, people, that’s still failure. The 2002 level one results made this abundantly clear: the failure rates were so shocking that critics who feared the foregoing of failure quickly became silenced, and proponents who had a different picture in mind were quickly outraged that only two percent of students gained excellence in some standards. However critics like to see it, this is not another attempt.

So, candidates sometimes skip papers for whatever reason. Is that something that started in 2005? Candidates have often sacrificed standards to gain others; for instance, in 2004 the level two mathematics examination team commented that "far too many candidates do not attempt any questions in a booklet." It’s no different from a candidate not entering a standard in the first place. The issue is not that some new term has been coined to describe this, that’s just rightful descriptivism.

The issue is that the idea of subjects has essentially been obliviated. Pick your battles, I say, look at the big picture, not some trivial naming matter.

Related Links

  • NZ Herald: English ridicules ‘void’ category for NCEA exams, 18 January 2006
  • An earlier blog of mine on "very not achieved", 9 November 2005
  • NZQA Press Release: Qualifications Authority modifies result notice, 27 October 2005

    Bill English is the National Party’s education spokesman.

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