02 Sep 2015
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NZQA hits back against online examination criticism

By Shannon Williams

A recent article in the Otago Daily Times earlier this week has raised concerns about the NZQA’s plans to put all subject examinations online by 2020.

According to the article, Concerns at digital exams, former University of Otago educational assessment research unit co-director Emeritus Professor Terry Crooks says moving school exams online where students will be able to sit them “online, anytime” is concerning.

''If assessment of many of the externally assessed NCEA standards were to become less controlled and less consistent because of the push for digital assessment, school and community trust in the NCEA qualifications would be seriously at risk,” Crook says in the article.

Crooks also says many schools would not have the resources – computers and other digital devices – in supervised exam rooms.

In response, Richard Thornton, deputy chief executive of digital transformation for NZQA, has assured parents, families and students can have full confidence in the NCEA system.

“It is a robust and internationally recognised qualification that is flexible enough to meet student needs no matter where they may be headed – into further tertiary study, work, or vocational training,” he explains.

“So that we can continue to meet the needs of 21st century students, NZQA is asking questions about how students will be learning in the decades to come and what assessment will look like at secondary school and beyond,” Thornton says.

Thornton acknowledges the points raised by Terry Crooks in the Otago Daily Times article are good ones, however.  “NZQA agrees that there is a lot we need to think about when it comes to increasing the use of digital assessment for NCEA,” he says.

“That is why we have been implementing our Future State programme of work. 

“It’s all about finding out what we need to do to be responsive to the global, digital and connected environment that students are living in, and to ensure that New Zealand qualifications remain credible and relevant in an increasingly borderless, global environment.”

Thornton says the current generation is comfortable using technology. 

“If students are living and learning in a world where technology is always at their fingertips in one way or another, then it makes sense that today’s (and tomorrow’s) students should also be assessed using technology that they are familiar with, in a digital environment,” Thornton says.

He says by 2020, NZQA envisages offering a wide range of digital assessment.

“Clearly, this won’t be realised overnight but NZQA has been trialling new processes and technologies with schools so that we can understand more about what works and what might be possible,” he explains.

Thornton says the NZQA is currently undertaking a series of school visits and presentations to engage with schools about the way in which technology is changing teaching and learning, and also to tell NZQA’s story about the increasing use of technology in assessment.

“NZQA is looking to introduce the use of technology in external assessment (end-of-year exams), as appropriate, to better reflect and enhance what is happening in teaching and learning,” he states.

Thornton says there are many schools who are themselves already assessing students digitally and submitting assessment to NZQA digitally.

“This year we’re also running a trial of a computer-based maths assessment that will give us a much better understanding of how digital assessment works and give schools a chance to experience and test it themselves.”

Thornton says more than 230 schools and around 13,000 students have asked to take part and 52% of schools are involved in at least one of the trials. 

“We’re delighted with the response from schools and that so many want to participate,” he says.

“We’re also offering online papers in the end-of-year exams to students who are entitled to the assistance of a reader/writer (as part of their Special Assessment Conditions), and are experienced using a keyboard,” he adds.

Thornton says the NZQA is working closely with schools and is taking a managed and measured approach that is ‘opt in’ and considers school and student readiness to move into a digital environment.

“We will at all times ensure the robustness of NCEA assessment,” he says.

“Innovation at NZQA is part of our collective strategic and daily thinking – meeting the needs of students in a constantly evolving, digital age, is our challenge and it is one NZQA is endeavouring to respond to.”

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