Auckland high schools are bracing for possible disruption to this year's end-of-year exams because of the city's measles epidemic.
About 140,000 students across the country will start this year's National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) exams on November 8, at a time when the measles epidemic is still growing - although at a slower rate than at the peak in September.
Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) reported 12 more cases on Wednesday alone, taking the Auckland total so far this year to 1581.
Medical Officer of Health Dr Maria Poynter said any students with measles, and students who had not been immunised but had been exposed to a "close contact" with measles, could not sit exams during their quarantine period but could apply for a "derived grade" based on their course work.
"GPs will need to provide medical certificates for patients with suspected or confirmed measles who are sitting exams," she said.
"ARPHS will provide documents for non-immune students who have been exposed to measles and are considered 'close contacts,' so they can also apply for derived grades."
She said one Auckland secondary school had a current measles case this week, but that student's isolation would end before the exam period.
"There are other students at this school, and at two other secondary schools who have been exposed to measles. Their quarantine period will finish before exams start," she said.
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But Auckland Secondary Schools Principals' Association president Richard Dykes, of Glendowie College, said the region's 100-plus secondary schools were prepared for more cases occurring during the exam period, which runs until December 3.
"Our advice to members is just be ready, expect to get a phone call on the day of an exam saying Student X has measles," he said.
"In that case, they have to contact all their students who have not been immunised against measles.
"We are talking more than 100 schools. What are the chances? We'd like to think they're low, but we have to be prepared for the reality."
He said derived grades could be granted for all NCEA subjects, but not for NZ Scholarships, which are awarded to the top 3 per cent of students in NCEA Level 3 in 35 academic subjects.
"I'm telling parents: if your young person is a scholarship student, get them immunised," he said.
Poynter said the National Immunisation Register only covered children born from 2005 onwards, but most students sitting NCEA this year were born before 2005 so there was no data on how many had had the recommended two vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) at ages 15 months and 4 years.
"We are encouraging students who don't have one MMR vaccination to get immunised," she said.
But she said the health service was not asking schools to stop unvaccinated students sitting NCEA exams, and she was not aware of any school that has barred unvaccinated students from sitting.
"ARPHS would not support this," she said.
Glendowie College is one of 35 Auckland secondary schools where some students will sit NCEA exams online for the first time this year, joining 15 other schools which have tried online exams over the past few years.
Dykes said only about 100 of his 800 NCEA students would try the online exams in English, Te Reo Māori, business studies and media studies.
"In English we are just doing one class. We don't want to throw our entire year group on to our network at the risk of crashing it," he said.
The central server used for last year's Level 1 English exam last year crashed for 10 minutes two hours into the three-hour exam.
Other schools involved in the online trials have reported problems. Some students have been asked for multiple log-ins to different subjects and some students have mistakenly been given fail grades.
An evaluation said some students found it difficult to work with graphs and equations online, and the NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has abandoned plans to offer maths and science exams online this year. The 14 subjects available online are mainly essay-based.
Dykes said schools faced "conflicting messages", as NZQA planned to move most exams online but there was no government funding for families to buy devices.
Grant McMillan, principal of decile-1 James Cook High School, said his school had enough devices for all senior students to sit their exams online, but had opted to wait until problems with the online exams were fixed.
"It's about being a safe follower; we don't have to be the leading edge on that," he said.
"With all the other development we are doing right now, that would be one more thing. It's very much a trial. I'm happy about what they are doing but we will be probably a year behind."