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English-style exams to help brightest

New zealand

TOP academic high schools are offering their brighter students English-style examinations because they are dissatisfied with the broad grading system used in new national school assessments.

Dozens of schools will be offering Year 11, 12, and 13 students Cambridge International Exams based on the UK's GCSE, AS-levels and A-levels that are run by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.

December saw the climax of the first year of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) that replaces the School Certificate, brought in over 50 years ago for fifth-form (Year 11) students. Under the School Certificate, 50 per cent of all students were guaranteed to fail, and NCEA was intended to give these students a chance to succeed. For the NCEA students can choose from a wide range of traditional and vocational subjects. Half the marks are awarded by external assessment and half internally via continuous assessment. There is no set pass:fail ratio.

NCEA Level 1 is the first stage of the three-tier system that will this year see Level 2 replace the Sixth Form Certificate for Year 12 and Level 3 replace University Bursary (Year 13) in 2004.

Most of the discontent is over students being awarded one of four broad standards of achievement in traditional academic subjects, instead of a specific percentage mark. The change is said to disadvantage more able students because those scoring 99 per cent will earn the same grade as those achieving 80 per cent.

About half of the NCEA is assessed internally and awarded one of four grades - "not achieved","achieved","achieved with merit" or "achieved with excellence". Students are able to re-sit units they fail.

However, the new system has provoked a storm of protest from teachers who say their workload has increased by between eight to 10 hours a week as a result of the extra marking and moderation meetings.

While most support it in principle, they say NCEA has been introduced hastily, and generally with too little preparation.

Some are now offering an alternative. At the state-run Auckland Boys'

Grammar, over 50 per cent will sit IGCSE exams, run as Cambridge International Examinations.

John Morris, headmaster of Auckland grammar, said 45 of about 460 secondaries are considering introducing these exams over the next two years.

"Standards-based assessment for academic subjects is just not appropriate," he said.

John Taylor, headmaster of the privately-run Kings College, Auckland said assessment has been "dumbed down", offering too little to challenge those who would normally earn top marks. The "achievement with excellence" boundary covers 80 to 100 per cent of the final grade.

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