Wednesday, 22 February 2017

HSC reforms again! (2017 Term 1 Week 4)

This week we saw the traditional flurry of interest in the media that accompanies the news of an educational initiative; in this case, it was the release of the new syllabus documents for the HSC. What we will see over the next couple of days is that the level of public interest and discussion will die away very swiftly, except in the educational community. For us - teachers and students - the impact of these changes is just beginning. In this blog I will reflect briefly on the new requirement for a national minimum standard for literacy and numeracy, and the role of the NAPLAN tests in demonstrating this standard.

There is much to applaud in the aims of the Stronger HSC Standards reforms. I have written previously about the changes when they were announced in the middle of 2016. We are already beginning to move towards implementing some of the changes; in light of the intentions, Year 11 students in 2017 have significantly fewer formal assessment items than has been the case in previous years. This change is intended both to diminish the extended pressure felt by students as they run from task to task, and to ensure that deeper learning is not squeezed out by the demands of formal assessment.

One of the key elements of the reforms is the required minimum standard for literacy and numeracy, particularly the role of the Year 9 NAPLAN tests to 'pre-qualify' to meet those standards. Students who achieve a Band 8 or better in NAPLAN reading, writing and numeracy tests will not be required to sit the online tests in Years 10, 11 and 12. At Inaburra, based on historical data, we would expect somewhere between 50% and 80% of our students to achieve this standard in Year 9.

I make three observations. First, I think that it is entirely appropriate to have a minimum standard of literacy and numeracy associated with gaining an HSC. The credential is of diminished value if it can be gained without a basic level of functional capability in these areas.

Second, the authority has been wise in providing multiple chances for students to demonstrate that they have met this minimum standard. If needed, after the Year 9 NAPLAN pre-qualifier, students will have multiple opportunities across Years 10-12 to sit an online test. In addition, they have up to five years after completing Year 12 to successfully complete the test as well. The multiple opportunities should ensure that the test is not experienced as a high-stakes, one-off, pressure-laden crisis.

Third, I fully expect that a number of Inaburra students will not meet the standard by the time of Year 9 NAPLAN - and that's OK! There are lots of things that they cannot do in Year 9 that they will learn to do by the end of Year 12. This should not be a cause for stress. 

However, as an aside, it may be helpful for Year 9 NAPLAN to be perceived as more significant. Whereas in Years 3, 5 and 7 we often have to downplay NAPLAN so that it doesn't become an inappropriate stressor, we tend to find that by Year 9, the message has gotten through and we need to provide a corrective to encourage them to make more of an effort.

Finally, I want to emphasise one of our core convictions as a school community, which is that the results gained in formal assessments are only one aspect of an education that is fit for purpose. Future success in life for our children will be determined more by their character and their soft skills, than by their results in NAPLAN or the HSC.

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