Education Minister Chris Hipkins made the announcement in late June.

“Online exams are increasingly popular in schools, are more efficient to administer and make assessment data more readily available for analysis,” the minister explained.

“This additional funding will allow NZQA to continue building the IT system schools need to offer NCEA exams online by 2020.

"NZQA will deliver over 30 digital examinations in 2019 as part of its pilots.”

According to Hipkins, around three quarters of secondary schools have taken part in NCEA Online trials and pilots since 2014, with the number rising significantly between 2016 and 2017.

The extra funding was welcomed by NZQA, which is working towards a goal of having NCEA exams online by 2020.

“Many schools use digital technology in nearly every aspect of their teaching and learning,” NZQA chief executive, Dr Karen Poutasi, said.

“It makes sense that students should be assessed using technology they are familiar with.”

Currently, NZQA is working with schools and the wider education sector on the design of the NCEA Online project.

The new investment from the Ministry will enable NZQA to “build the system that schools will experience and begin redefining how we develop examinations,” Poutasi said.

Digital trial and pilot exams will continue to be offered to schools, at a larger scale.

According to NZQA, a 'digital trial' is a practice assessment marked by teachers that does not count towards a student’s NCEA, but may provide evidence towards a derived grade if needed, while a 'digital pilot' is sat instead of the equivalent NCEA paper examinations and is marked by NZQA markers.

Schools and students choose whether to opt in for digital trials and pilots.

STUDENTS ON BOARD WITH DIGITAL CHANGE

The funding announcement was followed by the release of a report by NZQA detailing how students have found the trials and pilots.

The report includes the findings from NZQA’s 2017 Digital Trials and Pilots evaluation.

Feedback was sought from students, teachers, markers and examination centre managers.

Among those students who completed a digital trial exam in 2017, 80 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that it was a positive experience, up from 64 per cent in 2016.

When asked whether they preferred digital or paper exams, student responses were more mixed: 61 per cent of those asked agreed or strongly agreed that digital was preferable, while 39 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed. Differences were recorded across subjects too – 43 per cent of students who completed the science trial agreed or strongly agreed that they preferred the digital exam, compared with 81 per cent for health.

Students who participated in the digital pilot and completed a survey in 2017 were positive about their exam: 98 per cent agreed or strongly agreed it had been a positive experience. 95 per cent preferred the digital exam to paper.

Deputy chief executive for digital assessment transformation at NZQA, Andrea Gray, said students were using digital devices in everyday life so it was not surprising that many preferred online examinations.

“For students, markers and schools it makes sense to have exams available digitally.

"The findings are positive, marking is easier, and students find going online easier.”

Between the 2016 and 2017 NCEA trials and pilots, NZQA saw significant improvements in satisfaction levels in the delivery and marking of online examinations.

In 2016, 71 percent of markers who responded to a post-pilot survey were satisfied with their experience, but by 2017 that had increased to 94 percent.

“As well as the number of students and markers saying they preferred online examinations, the number of schools signing up to take part in the trials and pilots has also significantly increased,” Gray said.

NZQA said the findings would be used to continue making improvements to online exams.

PRINCIPALS EXPRESS FRUSTRATION AT NCEA REVIEW

Meanwhile, the Education Minister is considering making changes to the NCEA review to be more inclusive of principals.

The move comes after a group of principals took out a full page advertisement in national Sunday newspapers on July 1, in which they gave Minister Hipkins a ‘fail’ grade for his review.

"Too rushed, Minister Hipkins, not enough thought. Must do better for our young people," the advertisement read.

A spokesperson for the Principals NCEA Coalition, Massey High School principal Glen Denham, said at the time that the group was frustrated with the way the review into the school leavers qualification was being conducted.

“The timeframe is too short. The Government has allowed only 16 weeks to review a national educational qualification for the next 30 years.

“Five weeks of the process has passed, and still principals have not been consulted, rather they have been asked to act as ambassadors for a proposal they have had no input into.

“The process appears to be disingenuous,” he said.

Jack Boyle, president of the Post-Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA), said that the PPTA had played a part in ensuring the success of NCEA since its implementation in 2002. He said the organisation did not consider the review process to have been a 'failure'.

"Of course, it is likely that some teachers may share their concerns that the initial consultation process perhaps paid too much attention to involving a vast array of people, when actually the process could have been limited to those who have in-depth understanding of the qualification and focus on addressing technical issues that have arisen, including identifying these through careful data analysis," Boyle said. 

"However, that doesn’t mean it was wrong to ask students, parents, business etc. what they might like to see in the NCEA, rather, that sort of engagement could actually be quite powerful."

Following a meeting last week between the Coalition, the Minister, the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) and the PPTA’s Principals’ Council, Hipkins agreed to speak to Cabinet about proposed changes to the review process.

These included establishing a new professional advisory group, including principals and teachers, to advise him on the outcomes from the review process next year, and extending the current engagement process until October 19, instead of September 16, as originally planned.

The Coalition said it was grateful to the Minister for hearing their concerns.

“We are grateful to the Minister for meeting with us and welcome these initial changes as a good start,” Denham said.

“As a 70-strong coalition, we will now begin work on our vision for NCEA and the details of how it should operate, and New Zealand’s remaining secondary schools are very welcome to join us.

“It is vital to get this right for the future of the young people of New Zealand.”

Boyle said the PPTA was aware of issues with NCEA, but remained confident that out of the review process, "some clarity will emerge about how to address these."