A student passed with an excellence grade in NCEA History Level 1 by copying another student's answer from the year before. That used to be called cheating.

It's now called being "well-prepared".

The "preparation" was easy enough: the Qualifications Authority had uploaded the answer to their web page as an exemplar. The "well-prepared" student memorised the answer and repeated it for the following year's exam.

The plagiarised answer was given "excellence" and, amazingly, NZQA then uploaded the plagiarised answer as an "exemplar" for that year.

Advertisement

The two virtually identical exemplars were both on NZQA's web page.

You will no doubt wonder how the same answer works for an exam from two different years. Well, that's because the external exams ask generic questions. The particular unit standard is "Describe how a significant historical event affected NZ society".

The wording of the first question in every exam since at least 2011 has been, "Describe what happened in your chosen historical event". The only thing a student has to learn to pass with "excellence" is the exemplar answer the NZQA provides. There is nothing else to it.

History teacher Greg Burnard says memorising previous years' exemplars is "reasonably widespread across the country".

We could do the same for algebra. The unit standard would be, "Learn a really hard equation".

The exam question would be, "Solve a really hard equation".

To assist students, an excellent answer from the year before would be put on NZQA's web page. And to make sure students understand how to pass well, the answer from the student who copied it best would be uploaded as the following year's exemplar.

That's how it seems to work for Level 1 NCEA History unit 91006.

Advertisement

NCEA is run by technocrats and made impenetrable by gobbledygook. It has become a huge bureaucratic enterprise that fails in the very basics. All the work, words and assurances boil down, for unit 91006, to copying last year's answer.

We can all readily see that's wrong, that copying does not provide an objective assessment of what a student has learned or can do, and that it's grossly unfair to reward students who copy while disadvantaging those who don't.

But stating the obvious is not how government handles blunders.

Education Minister Nikki Kaye has called NZQA chairwoman Sue Suckling to a "please explain" meeting.

No doubt there will be a review. There will be an acceptance that there are flaws but overall the system is extremely great. There will be the promise that it won't happen again.

The handling of such shambles is now a practised and well-managed art.

The political and bureaucratic machinery doesn't even miss a gear.

The best we can do is point at it, have a laugh at the system's sheer incompetence, watch as the predicted PR response unfolds - and then feel sorry for the students who are the subjects of another experiment that works only in theory.