David Hill: Testing time to control 140,000 teens

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We should admire how 4000 supervisors run NCEA external exams - and it all has to work perfectly.

A room full of teenagers sitting quietly is a sight to behold. Photo / Greg Bowker
A room full of teenagers sitting quietly is a sight to behold. Photo / Greg Bowker

It started on November 8, with Scholarship Drama. It finishes on December 3, with Level 1 Spanish, Level 2 Dance, Level 3 Social Studies, Scholarship Earth and Space Sciences. Yes, it's NCEA external exam time again.

The statistics of organising these exams are jaw-dropping enough. Approximately 140,000 candidates, 400 exam centres, 4000-plus supervisors, 2 million items of printed material. And folks, it all has to work perfectly, in every centre for every candidate in every exam. This is little Jayde/Jayden's big day. And yours, since the taxpayer is funding things.

Rest easy. Your money is well-spent when it comes to running NCEA external exams. Even though those 4000 supervisors have included me for a fair few years now, the system runs with admirable competence.

Before a single candidate enters a single exam room, arrangements have been made for students with Tourette's or Asperger's, for those with vision or hearing problems, those who need extra time (the girl with spinal difficulties who has to get up and walk around every 15 minutes; the boy with chronic asthma); those who need a reader-writer.

Applications on behalf of every such candidate have been submitted to and considered by NZQA; facilities and necessary assistance have been prepared. All exam venues have been checked for access, safety, noise and lighting levels.

Every school has appointed a principal's nominee to liaise with the exam centre manager. Every CD (French, Japanese), DVD (dance, drama), piece of recording gear (music) has been checked and itemised.

The supervisors - Me! Me! - have had their training sessions: 70 pages of instructions and questions that advise us Persons in Power how to handle every conceivable issue, plus a number of the almost inconceivable.

You want to know what to do if Con and Ben seem to have swapped their individually labelled papers? If Shontelle vomits on the exam room floor? If Julia bursts into tears and admits she's been cheating? If Transpower suddenly decide to black out a few exam centres? It's all in the light-blue Supervision Instructions or the beige Supervisor Training Booklet.

A family moves house 500km the week before NCEA starts, taking their Level 2 candidate son with them, and he fronts up at an exam centre which has no record of him? Wiri breaks his writing arm at basketball on Wednesday and has three hours of Level 3 Physics on Thursday?

Nikki (Scholarship French) arrives for her vital exam in the afternoon, when it's been held in the morning? Consult the beige or light blue. Even when a candidate with the right admission slip enters the right exam centre at the right time for the right exam, NCEA supervisors need to be prepared for contingencies.

There are the serious - an earthquake; a candidate impersonation. The suspicious - candidates with hoodies up, candidates constantly checking legs or fingers. The technological - what to do re calculators (permitted in some cases), mobile phones (not permitted), MP3 Players (waddaya think?). The logistical - late arrival, sudden nosebleed, more than two visits to the toilet. You'll be enchanted to learn that a roll is kept in the last case, and it is indeed called a Toilet Roll.

An external NCEA exam can be an astonishing sight. A couple of hundred teenagers enter an assembly hall quietly, sit attentively, spend three hours focusing studiously. The public should be invited to watch - from a protected enclosure.

You may not know what they get taught in schools these days, but the way they're organised and supervised during their NCEA external exams is efficient, thorough, and very, very supportive. Pause a moment and acknowledge.

- NZ Herald

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