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Scholarship markscheme a bit odd

"The Performance Category," the letter read, "…is not included on the result notice." Rather, reported results still stuck to last year’s "No Award", "Scholarship", "Outstanding". A whole three levels of performance for New Zealand’s top secondary school examination, and by its nature, supposedly competitive.

I will admit, this is remarkably different from what I expected to be told. For starters, the performance standards for Scholarship are defined at three, and in some cases four, levels. Ultimately, students are meant to have demonstrated competency against these standards.

Why, then, are there less bands of performance than there are descriptors of performance? How do I know whether my scholarship means I can "devise and/or use models to solve complex problems", or just "apply appropriate technique(s) within complex problems"?

The performance categories are meant to be based on bands of marks. Last year, the revised marking schedules also allowed for performance categories — though those categories were determined by the number of correctly answer questions at certain levels (like NCEA), rather than straight numerical totals. My assumption that this was to be part of Scholarship, and its results, appears incorrect. It was only to be "used in the marking process to group marks for ranking purposes".

I’m inclined to wonder if performance categories were ditched last-minute. I figure that if there are three levels of performance, determining cut-off points would be sufficient, and dividing students into such categories is a redundant step.

A November 2005 press release, by NZQA, said that "students will know how they performed compared with the other students in that subject." I’ll be fair: we were given a summary of how many student scored in some bands. I, for example, was ahead of 227 students who obtained zero, and a further 195 who scored less than six.

It was not, however, the detail that I expected after an "[assessment] designed [to] ensure a spread of achievement by candidates that allows the candidates’ performance to be ranked", as recommended in the Scholarship Reference Group’s report. The entire group who had attained Scholarship were lumped into a single category, so aside from knowing that I had only made the standard by three marks, I have no idea how I did in relation to other achievers. Rather, I am somewhere in a group of 185 students who got between 20 and 46 marks.

An examination where a certain number of students, within tolerances, is meant to pass, as well as it being intended for the highest achievers in level three, would make it seem, at the very least, more competitive than the standards-based assessment in NCEA. However, it seems to me that, for this year, they have clung to the NCEA philosophy — that of a qualification which serves an entirely different purpose — as much as possible; and even backwards of that by providing less information than the performance descriptors do. Students who are prepared to extend themselves that far should get a more detailed reporting of both their relative and absolute performance.

The scholarship examination referred to is the New Zealand Scholarship examination. The subject I took was Mathematics with Calculus.

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