Education Minister Hekia Parata is patting her own back for improving NCEA statistics and especially for closing the gaps for Maori and Pasifika.

The minister's numbers show a 20 per cent improvement for all students during National's tenure and a whopping 50-odd per cent improvement for Maori and an even greater improvement for Pasifika students.

That improvement would be a marvellous thing if it only it were so.

Herald investigative reporter Kirsty Johnston revealed last year Maori and Pasifika students get a different NCEA to Pakeha and Asian students. She found, "At Level 2, decile 1 Maori students were four times as likely as decile 10 Pakeha to take subjects in the 'services sector' field - an area including hospitality, tourism and retail. Popular standards in this field included cooking food by grilling, and preparing espresso-based drinks."

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The NCEA system is touted as flexible. That flexibility damns it as a system of comparison.

A merit pass in making coffee and a toastie is not the same as a merit pass in science. But Parata takes it as a win. And gives herself a hearty slap on the back for doing so.

I have no doubt baristas do more good than degreed-up lawyers and bureaucrats, but making coffee is not the educational achievement we have in mind when sending children to school.

NCEA Level 3 is also not encouraging. That's the standard set by the universities and the criteria were toughened in 2014, making comparison over time difficult. The achievement rate is Pasifika 30.7 per cent, Maori 31.4 per cent, European 57.8 per cent and Asian 66.5 per cent.

The gap is wide. And the results are slipping.

The Herald's Simon Collins reports, "Maori UE achievement is still 2.8 per cent below 2013 levels, at 31.4 per cent, and the Pacific rate is down 4.2 per cent to 30.7 per cent. The European rate has slipped only 1.3 per cent to 57.8 per cent."

Nonetheless the minister shouts, "Across the board, achievement is up!"

My conclusions are:

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•NCEA does more to confuse and confound than to measure.

•There appears to be a massive grade inflation.

•NCEA is not measuring like-with-like.

•There is a very large ethnic gap in achievement and the quality of achievement.

•Politicians will always take a win, citing whatever statistics suits.

If our political and bureaucratic leaders cared as much about education as they tell us they do, they would have a proper system for measuring achievement, they would be scouting for what works, they would not be shouting success in the face of failure, and they would allow much greater teaching diversity than the bureaucratic monolith that is the government's education system.

We suffer now the tyranny of low expectations. We don't expect much from our politicians. We don't expect much from education. And they, in turn, have come to take teaching a student to make coffee as a pass.