NCEA and the Law of Unintended Consequences

The integrity of the NCEA qualification is under attack yet again, this time from National’s Education spokesman, Bill English. Labour Education Minister, Steve Maharey has leapt to its defence as has the secondary teachers union, the PPTA.

Its not surprising the socialists are defending NCEA, because the system has been socialist from the beginning.

The one redeeming feature of “standards based assessment” we are told is that it gives less able or disadvantaged kids more sense of achievement and self worth, because everything they “achieve” is rewarded with “Unit Standards”
Unfortunately this “self esteem” only lasts until the kids try to enter the work force. Then they find the “qualifications” they’ve worked for aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. How cruel is that?

Even crueler is the way “standards based assessment” handicaps able people from poor backgrounds. This is a classic example of the “law of unintended consequences”. In other words socialist measures always end up harming most, those they are allegedly designed to help.

Say for example I want to hire a new apprentice chef.
I advertise and get two applicants.

Tom comes from the lowest decile school in town, but he got 85% in School Cert English and 87% in Food Technology. Jason comes from the highest decile school in town, but he only got 70% in English and 75% in Food Technology. All other things being equal, I employ Tom, the applicant with the best marks. His academic results overcome his disadvantaged background.

Try it again with “standards based assessment”. The applicant from the poorest school has “Unit Standards” in English and Food Technology. They mean nothing to me because I find them hard to understand and I have no idea how hard he worked to obtain them. I also have no faith in their integrity.

The applicant from the best school also has equally meaningless “Unit Standards”
What do I do? Simple, I choose on other factors. Who came from the best school, with the best reputation? Who plays sport? Who has the best haircut?

Because academic achievement that can’t be measured, or trusted is of little use to an employer, the applicant from the poor school is permanently disadvantaged. The applicant from the best school has a big and undeserved advantage. This socialist measure ends up reinforcing, the very elitism it was supposedly designed to counter.

“Standards based assessment” gives worthless qualifications to the less able. It disadvantages the able from poor backgrounds. It discourages able students from extending themselves and aiming for excellence. It handicaps parents because they cannot tell how well their kids are really doing. It confuses and frustrates employers who have to waste their time reading meaningless CVs. It impoverishes taxpayers who have to fork out for all this rubbish.

It does however keep NZQA bureaucrats in high paying jobs. It also provides ammunition for teachers unions when pressing pay claims. Maybe that’s why these two groups seem to be the system’s biggest (and almost only) fans.

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