A trivial matter

Year 13 students are complaining about the use of the word ‘trivial’ in a history exam (in a quote by someone called Caesar) because they didn’t know what the word meant. And the chairman of the New Zealand History Teachers’ Association agrees that it is ‘unfair to test comprehension’ in an exam.

I’m not sure if this acceptance that lack of knowledge of the meaning of words is an alarming indictment of our school education, or it is a sign of changing times.

Stuff: Students launch petition after being flummoxed by word ‘trivial’ in NZQA exam

Year 13 students are worried they might fail their history exam because they didn’t know what the word “trivial” meant.

The senior students have launched a petition asking for the essay to be marked based on students’ own definition of the “unfamiliar” word. It has so far received more than 1300 signatures.

As of now there are 2159 signatures. The  petition:

The year 13 History Causes and Consequences essay has made the decision of including an unfamiliar word (trivial) which caused much confusion among the students who were sitting the exams on the 14th of November 2018.

The word which many students were not particularly familiar with meant that student’s had to write the essay based on their own understanding of the word. Many of which were different to what the word actually means; meaning that the true potential of many students are going to be covered.

This petition is made for the government to recognize the true potential of the students and mark the essay based on the student’s own content and understanding of the event. Please do not feel threatened for this is only a petition to recognize the hard work and efforts put in by many across the country.

Stuff:

Students sitting the NZQA Level 3 History causes and consequences paper on Wednesday were confronted with the word in a quote from Julius Caesar: “Events of importance are the result of trivial causes.”

Students were asked to analyse the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with Caesar, with reference to the causes and consequences of a historical event.

Taieri College student Logan Stadnyk is one of those who sat the paper and signed the petition.

He said he was “lucky” to understand the word, but at least half of his class didn’t.

Now the students were worried they could be penalised.

Some of his peers thought trivial meant “significant”, he said.

“Trivial isn’t a word that you hear too frequently, especially not if you’re in Year 13,” he said.

I’m not sure how those who write exam questions can ensure all words used are frequently heard by 18 year olds.

Chairman of the New Zealand History Teachers’ Association, Graeme Ball, agreed.

He called the exam a “little bit of a snafu” on the part of NZQA, and said the language used in questions should be “accessible to all”.

The exam was not testing comprehension, so it was “unfair” to make that part of the assessment, he said.

I learned that being able to comprehend exam questions was quite important, but that was quite a while ago.

Should students be able to take a dictionary into exams? Do they have dictionaries these days?

But should Year 13 students know the word “trivial”?

It was “debatable”, he said. “I don’t think we can make assumptions about what students should and shouldn’t know at that level,” he said.

A spokeswoman for NZQA said the language used in the question “was expected to be within the range of vocabulary for a NCEA Level 3 History student”…

I would have thought so.

…but candidates would not be penalised for misinterpreting the word ‘trivial’.

How the hell does that work. Can students who state they don’t understand a word answer a question however they like? Or do exam markers guess if meaning is not understood and allow for that in marks? I guess that is kind of normal.

But not understanding a word like ‘trivial’ doesn’t seem like a trivial matter.

Should exam questions be dumbed down to avoid any student not understanding words used? Or should meanings of any tricky words be included in exam papers?

Or should vocabulary be taught in schools?

 

Leave a comment

65 Comments

  1. robertguyton

     /  November 16, 2018

    The students who didn’t understand the meaning of the word “trivial” were seriously disadvantaged in the exam. To them, the word is obscure. Can they be blamed for not being familiar with a particular word? Should they be admired for taking action over this issue? Clearly, the exam was not fair for a significant number of students.

    Reply
    • Gerrit

       /  November 16, 2018

      Their first lesson in real life experience, at the very least, for these students.

      Life is not fair.

      Reply
      • robertguyton

         /  November 16, 2018

        Those who set the exam are supposed to ensure it’s fair for all. Imagine if they’d asked students to quote Hone Harawira – the brains of all the children of Rightwingers would have exploded!

        Reply
        • “Those who set the exam are supposed to ensure it’s fair for all.”

          Does that mean exams should ensure that all pupils can equally answer every question?

          Reply
          • robertguyton

             /  November 16, 2018

            What a daft question, Pete. The education system aims to ensure that every pupil can equally answer every question, not “exams’. It’s an impossible task, but a worthy aspiration.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  November 16, 2018

              Pete’s question is entirely relevant. I knew the meaning of the word “trivial” well before year 13; so did you I bet. Your comment is as daft as daft gets.

        • Gezza

           /  November 16, 2018

          Do you know what the word trivial means, robert?
          If yes, how did you find out?
          If no, does this explain a lot of your comments?
          Just asking. 😳

          Reply
          • robertguyton

             /  November 16, 2018

            I do, Gezza, know the meaning of “trivial” and to prove that I do, I offer an example; your comment above.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  November 16, 2018

              Bad example. And your abilidy at reading for comprehension remains povidy-stricken, sad to say.

              You have not answered the question, “If yes, how did you find out?”

            • robertguyton

               /  November 16, 2018

              How did I learn the meaning of “trivial”?
              I can’t remember, it will have been long ago but I suspect I heard or read it somewhere. Is there some significance that can be attached to how I “found out” what the word “trivial” means?

            • robertguyton

               /  November 16, 2018

              I do remember though, the test-results that came back following a listening comprehension test given to all 5th formers across the country where I was ranked in the 98th percentile for listening comprehension skills. That’s good, I suppose.

            • Gezza

               /  November 16, 2018

              Is there some significance that can be attached to how I “found out” what the word “trivial” means?

              Yes.

        • Gerrit

           /  November 16, 2018

          You would have to wonder how a student would explain this historical quote from Harawira.

          “Mr Harawira accused “white motherf***ers” of “puritanical bullshit” for expecting him to follow the rules.”

          Be interesting.

          Reply
          • robertguyton

             /  November 16, 2018

            That’s not a quote from Hone, Gerrit.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  November 16, 2018

              quote
              /kwəʊt
              verb
              1. repeat or copy out (words from a text or speech written or spoken by another person).
              “I realized she was quoting passages from Shakespeare”
              . . . . . . . . .
              It’s actually two quotes – quoting two words spoken by Hone: “white motherf***ers” and “puritanical bullshit” are two quotes.

            • robertguyton

               /  November 16, 2018

              Exactly. When claiming to be quoting someone, one has to be accurate and attend to detail.

            • Gerrit

               /  November 16, 2018

              Was copying and pasting from here

              “Harawira reacted to an email criticising him for bunking off a work trip to visit Paris by lashing out at white people.

              In an email exchange released to Radio New Zealand, Mr Harawira accused “white motherf***ers” of “puritanical bullshit” for expecting him to follow the rules.”

              http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/3037942/PM-Harawiras-white-tirade-deeply-offensive

              However I cant find the email but the relevant text is here

              “On a parliamentary trip to Europe in 2009, Hawawira did a bit of personal sightseeing in Paris. Upon his return was asked to repay some travel costs after skipping a conference in Brussels to go. In a subsequent email exchange with Buddy Mikaere (a former director of the Waitangi Tribunal), who had criticised Harawira’s actions, Harawira lashed out, saying — “Gee Buddy, do you believe that white man bull**** too do you? White motherf***ers have been raping our lands and ripping us off for centuries and all of a sudden you want me to play along with their puritanical bullshit….And, quite frankly, I don’t give a shit what you or anyone else thinks about it. OK?”

              https://breakingviewsnz.blogspot.com/2014/10/mike-butler-harawiras-murky-past.html

              Worth a read the whole post regarding the Harawira clan.

            • robertguyton

               /  November 16, 2018

              Old news, Gerrit. Get with the times. Quotes from Jami-Lee Ross are far more topical and relevant.

            • robertguyton

               /  November 16, 2018

              Complaining? Quote my “complaint”, Gezza to show you’re not making stuff up.

            • Gerrit

               /  November 16, 2018

              Not as old as the Ceasar quote.

        • Gezza

           /  November 16, 2018

          @ robert

          Next time you want to complain about something as picky and trivial as those two words were two quotes, not one, I suggest you do so officially – by filling out one of these out and emailing it to me (via the blogmeister) for a suiitable resolution:

          Reply
    • Mother

       /  November 16, 2018

      I presume that they don’t know what ‘trivial’ means because they have not encountered the personal challenge of needing to figure out what is trivial and what is truly consequential in their lives and in the life of community.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  November 16, 2018

        That’s a poor excuse. I haven’t had to do all sorts of things whose names I know the meanings of, and I certainly knew words like trivial long before I was 17.

        I wonder if the girl who said that the people who signed the petition as a joke was right.

        Reply
    • Trevors_Elbow

       /  November 16, 2018

      The Left’s dumbing down to slogans to keep the voting canon fodder pliable continues… and the Lefts normal apologist brays its unfair to expect year 13 (that’s the old 7th Form i.e. the final year before leaving secondary school and supposedly a year about preparing top students for University education..) to know the meaning of a common place word like trivial…

      Truly the Left have corrupted the education system when year 13 students are so lacking in the basic tool set of academic thought that they have no idea what trivial means.

      Reply
      • robertguyton

         /  November 16, 2018

        Those year 13 students must have spent most of their years at high school under a National Government, Trevors_Elbow.

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  November 16, 2018

          Maori immersion?

          Reply
        • Trevors_Elbow

           /  November 16, 2018

          You mean….Under a left wing teachers union totally resistant to standards, totally against addressing their own failings and resistant to striving for excellence in the teaching profession ….

          Yeah its all Nationals fault Robert, keep plucking that one string harp and braying lad….

          Reply
          • robertguyton

             /  November 16, 2018

            National has been completely ineffectual in influencing educational practice in NZ, Trevors_Elbow?
            Useless!

            Reply
            • Trevors_Elbow

               /  November 16, 2018

              Yeah – and why? Because parents get panicked by militant unions striking and abandoning the young people entrusted to their care while they focus on protecting their patch… its all about the teachers and their Unions agendas… kids come second…..

              All attempts by National to improve things have been resisted as a reflex response by the Teaching profession via its Unionised elements.

              Any attempts to avoid the Teaching Unions have been killed by Labour as soon as they have achieved power i.e. Partnership Schools being axed by the CoL.

              Outcomes for kids are secondary to enforcing political agendas (see the teaching of NZ history which ignores the period 1800 to 1840 which is the critical period in our countries history and sets the context which lead to the ToW).

              You can eyeore all you like Robert but your tribal loyalty blinds you to reality.

            • robertguyton

               /  November 16, 2018

              Poor, poor National! Beaten down by the scary UNIONS!!!
              Wee mice!

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  November 16, 2018

              @Robert, Minister of Education is generally regarded as the worst job in a National Government as it is just one long shit fight with the teacher unions. Fact.

            • robertguyton

               /  November 16, 2018

              Look, Alan, if National can’t even manage the country’s education system, they should just butt right out of politics!

      • duperez

         /  November 16, 2018

        “Truly the Left have corrupted the education system when year 13 students are so lacking in the basic tool set of academic thought that they have no idea what trivial means.”

        I had to put this down again. The beauty of its stupidity will keep me going through the day.🙂

        Reply
        • Trevors_Elbow

           /  November 16, 2018

          Gee Dupe…. Is that supposed to be pointed?

          Or are you so Duped by your left wing thought processes you can’t acknowledge that students supposedly ready to take bursary exams and enter university have no idea what a simple word like trivial actually means are a symptom of a deeply flawed education system?

          Our schooling system is captured by lefties, its extremely left wing in our Universities and in the training of our teachers… and standards have been slipping and slipping since the lefties started capturing control of the education system in earnest from the early 70’s….

          Any year 13 student should be reading widely – should be reading material that challenges their comprehension skills and forcing them to reach for a dictionary when encountering new words. Hell that should be occurring from year 11.

          The fact our teaching profession continually lows the bar of expectations and doesn’t challenge the students they teach is a huge problem… particularly for kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds who are less likely to have parents are highly educated who do set expectations… but that’s all about keeping the general populace dumb and dependent, unquestioning and faithful followers of the party line … and of course all good leftie cadres of the leadership ranks send their children to the best schools possible to ensure they maintain their control on familial lines

          Reply
          • robertguyton

             /  November 16, 2018

            Half of them did know what “trivial” means, Trevors_Elbow. How do you explain that?

            Reply
            • Trevors_Elbow

               /  November 16, 2018

              Good parents and the odd teacher who encourages doing things that aid vocab growth, like reading difficult books and doing simple things like crosswords….

              Given 44% of country votes National – those kids probably come form blue households Robert… ; )

            • robertguyton

               /  November 16, 2018

              Voted. “Form” blue households is about right too, Trevors_Elbow – cookie-cutter kids, little gingerbread Tories.

            • Gerrit

               /  November 16, 2018

              The 50% who answered the question did right and payed attention to the teachers when Ceasar was under discussion during class. The did the right thing by asking the meaning of “trivial”.

              The left over shirking complainers were either not in class or not paying attention.

              The whole point of an exam is to test whether or not students have learned from the curriculum for that year.

              So either the teacher did not teach the curriculum or did not teach it well enough so all the students knew what “trivial” meant.

              But a teacher cant teach if the kids are not in class or not responding to teaching inputs.

            • Trevors_Elbow

               /  November 16, 2018

              Cookie cutter kids…. oh dear Robert you have descend to your normal inanity….

          • High Flying Duck

             /  November 16, 2018

            The problem, Trevor, is that words are a social construct and enforce the patriarchy on society. These students are probably spending so much time learning correct gender pronouns that there is little left for increasing vocabulary.

            Reply
          • duperez

             /  November 16, 2018

            If some kids not knowing what a word like trivial means is a symptom of a deeply flawed education system, is the same reason to be used for your lack of knowledge and closed mind?

            Our schooling system is captured by lefties and standards have been slipping and slipping since the lefties started capturing control of the education system in earnest from the early 70’s?

            Since the early 70s Labour Governments have been in power for 20 years and National Governments 30 years. (rounded up for tidiness.) Are you including several of the National stints as ‘lefty’?

            You say “all attempts by National to improve things have been resisted as a reflex response by the Teaching profession via its Unionised elements.”
            I won’t challenge you to list the ‘all.’ Any genuine attempt to do that, would founder given the incalculable number of changes and the diversity of them across the breadth of all facets of the sector. Try if you like. Maybe start with the 70s.

            You have Robert’s tribal loyalty blinding him to reality. If he needs to go to Specsavers maybe you could tag along.

            Reply
    • Gezza

       /  November 16, 2018

      Reply
  2. duperez

     /  November 16, 2018

    Vocabulary shouldn’t be taught in schools. Vocabulary should be and will be learned in school by the varied experiences happening there. (Including reading books.)

    Vocabulary is learned in the ordinary everyday experiences of life. Working in mechanical shops I learned some different vocabulary than I’d experienced before! That kids in year 13 hadn’t heard the word ‘trivial’ suggests the lives they’ve led has limited their exposure to what would be expected to be ‘normal’ language.

    The answer? No idea, but consider the weirdness of 17 and 18 year olds who’ve never heard of ‘trivial’ yet who are doing something about someone called Caesar.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  November 16, 2018

      Julius Caesar. I would hope that they would have heard of him, but even if -may God forbid – they hadn’t,, they were answering a question about something he said.

      Surely nobody at that level could be so stupid that they thought that he was saying that important actions happened because of important causes; what on earth could be more banal than that ?

      Reply
  3. Gerrit

     /  November 16, 2018

    Wonder how many of those kids were worldly smart and realising they did not know the meaning of a word nor the sentence it was used in, went online and researched and learnt something.

    As opposed to the 2000 odd who complained and learned nothing.

    Those who took initiative and went out to learn will get a fair deal out of life.

    Those who complained and learnt nothing will be perpetually stymied by the unfairness in real life.

    Reply
    • robertguyton

       /  November 16, 2018

      Going on-line, during an exam, Gerrit?
      Is that how the Right do it?

      Reply
      • Gerrit

         /  November 16, 2018

        Hohoho

        You read things into a string of words that are not there. The people with the right stuff would have failed that exam but learned from the experience.

        The left over complainers would have failed that exam but learned nothing.

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  November 16, 2018

          The people with the right stuff would have fudged their answer to cover their ignorance first (not too hard in a waffle subject) and then looked up the worrrdd later.

          Reply
          • robertguyton

             /  November 16, 2018

            “The people with the right stuff would have fudged their answer ”
            QFT (Thanks, John Key, Simon Bridges et al.)

            Reply
            • Kitty Catkin

               /  November 16, 2018

              The people with the right stuff would have had the sense to work out what Caesar was saying. Fudging an answer is a sure and certain way to fail. This is not a waffle question at all.

  4. Noel

     /  November 16, 2018

    Just watch the Chase and it’s apparent that vocabulary changes within age groups.

    “A spokeswoman for NZQA said the language used in the question “was expected to be within the range of vocabulary for a NCEA Level 3 History student”

    Reply
    • Noel

       /  November 16, 2018

      Should have added suppose tonight’s news will have media questioning students.

      Reply
  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  November 16, 2018

    Odd that Caesar knew more English than they do.

    Reply
  6. Corky

     /  November 16, 2018

    So, I wonder how many pupils sitting the Cambridge Exam know the meaning of ”trivial?”
    99% would be my guess.

    Reply
  7. alloytoo

     /  November 16, 2018

    Frankly if they don’t know what the word “Trivial” means, they shouldn’t be doing year 13 exams at all.

    Reply
  8. PDB

     /  November 16, 2018

    I did see someone say that during the exams the students can ask the person overseeing the exam any questions relating to simple word comprehension? If true then that would suggest that many students don’t know what can and can’t be asked during exam time.

    Reply
  9. There comes a time when a knowledge base of words in the English language is a pre-requisite for being able to sit a Level 3 NCEA exam. It’s not as if this exam was set for fifth formers. The candidates have completed their final year of study in History at secondary school. I was appalled that Graeme Ball could entertain the idea that NZQA had made an error of judgement over the inclusion of the word ‘trivial’ in a seventh form (NCEA Level 3) examination. It is an indictment to the standard that Ball attempts to uphold in his own teaching, never mind that of the NCEA Level 3 examination in History.

    Reply
  10. angkag

     /  November 19, 2018

    Total support that students should know what trivial means.

    The translation of the quote is still pretty dodgy though, here’s the original Latin and alternative (longer) translation.

    Sed fortuna, quae plurimum potest cum in reliquis rebus tum praecipue in bello, parvis momentis magnas rerum commutationes efficit; ut tum accidit.
    Fortune, which has a great deal of power in other matters but especially in war, can bring about great changes in a situation through very slight forces.
    The Civil War, Book III, 68; variant translation: “In war, events of importance are the result of trivial causes.”

    The quote was in a letter to the Senate following Caesar’s victory over Versingatorix in Gaul, and the subject becomes ‘Fortune’, ie luck. Putting the whole thing in context, there was an element of politic involved as Caesar was being deliberately modest for reasons likely related to how he was positioning himself. Anyway, the shorter translation and taking it out of context makes the question a dubious one.

    Reply

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