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Changes to Senior Assessment - Time for Your Say

Posted by Fiona Laing, ETAQ President on 16 November 2014

Time to give your feedback on the Response to Redesign of the Secondary/Tertiary Interface - the Matters/Masters recommendations. In the next two weeks, ETAQ needs your blog response or an email to President@etaq.org.au.  

Our proposals are about minimising the harm from these changes, protecting that which is best in our current system. the main proposals are:

  • Maintaining a role for the QCAA in advising on the entry requirements set for students
  • Keeping the centrally devised and marked exam as only 30-40% of the total
  • Maintaining suitable funding of the moderation system
  • Finding enough funding to 'do the job' properly or not at all - avoiding an extended dual system (where English exams happen, as well as QCS test)
  • Considering very closely the spread of genre so as not to narrow the scope of the subject English
  • Maintaining awareness of the developmental needs of students as well as the social justice imperatives within the new system

ETAQ response to the Redesigning the Secondary-Tertiary interface: Queensland Review of Senior Assessment and Tertiary Entrance


ETAQ is concerned about the proposals for the redesign of the secondary-tertiary interface and is keen to maintain a strong dialogue between government, the QCAA and our organisation to advocate for best practice for English students and strong support for English teachers in any process of future change.

Outlined below are the principles underpinning ETAQ’s proposals for change/review of action as well as concrete proposals to protect the best of the Queensland Senior Assessment and Tertiary Entrance System, as it now stands. ETAQ believes that there are great strengths in the current system which could be significantly undermined if all recommendations are followed without adjustment.

Principles underpinning changes

The Review expresses the opinion that the ‘strengths of existing Queensland arrangements’ include the ‘use of classroom teachers’ judgements of students’ performances and work’. ETAQ supports this as being a great strength of the Queensland system. It therefore argues that further principles need to underpin this system to ensure its integrity. Some of these principles should include:
• Equity for students from different socio-economic backgrounds and language backgrounds
• Integrity of assessment
• Fairness for students
• Support and training for staff
• Maintaining access to high quality professional conversation around quality assessment (as is currently the case through panels)
• An awareness of potential narrowing of the curriculum in response to changes
• Maintaining a system which values 21st century skills: teamwork, problem solving, creativity, verbal communication

Relationship between the QCAA and QTAC

?The review recognises the review ‘found little support for the current OP system either among schools or universities, with these two groups usually expressing different concerns’. This identification of very different attitudes and needs of schools and universities is critical in considering the potential impact of giving the universities the full responsibility to complete all scaling (Recommendation 13) of school subjects. The QCAA is a body demonstrated to have been highly responsive to school needs, since many staff have recency within schools and, therefore, a strong understanding of the impact on schools of changes to university entry. QTAC, on the other hand, has been established by the university sector to meet their needs. Hence, it would be critical to maintain a good relationship between the two bodies, with agreement and negotiation required for any major changes.

Therefore, the idea of completely divorcing the scaling of subjects and decisions around university entry from the QCAA is not supported, unless the QCAA has legislated rights to input to these decisions. In Recommendations 2,12-15, 20 and 22, the complete separation seems likely to increase the distance between the university sector and limit the knowledge of how changes to tertiary entrance will impact on schools, especially in terms of narrowing of subject selection and other unintended impacts on schools. Equity considerations would need to be considered in terms of the capacity for English for ESL Learners students to have fair access to university entrance.

Nature of the exam and the course

?Firstly, changing to an external exam of 50% weighting is a radical shift of practice and ETAQ argues this proportion is highly inappropriate and could have a very negative impact on many students in terms of equity and maintaining the sorts of 21st century skills touted as important for schools. ETAQ agrees strongly with the need to maintain the elements of 21st century learning such as teamwork, problem solving, creativity, verbal communication. 

If an external exam is deemed necessary, it should be considered to make the proportion either 30% exams/70% assessment up to 40% exams, as a maximum and 60% assignments as a minimum.  This would allow schools some chance of maintaining the best qualities of Queensland’s current system of school-based assessment.

It would be absolutely critical to heavily involve teaching associations in the development of the details of the exam and the course as a whole, in order for it to have credibility with teachers and universities alike. ETAQ and QATESOL (Queensland Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) would need to have an input to this process, along with other relevant bodies, including the education departments of universities who work closely with schools.

The genre which are included are a matter of great concern (Recommendation 7). The 21st century skills necessary for preparing students for the full range of future occupations and courses (Recommendation 18) would be likely lost almost entirely if the course was narrowed to an ‘exam factory’. Currently in English, students are required to write in an imaginative mode, expository mode and public expository/reflective mode. The latter mode is one that is currently beginning to be used by a range of university courses. With only 3 school-based tasks, strong consideration would need to be given to effectively matching the genre at university and TAFE with the genre set for school assessment.

Another issue of concern is the narrowing of modes of production in English. The spoken mode, the multi-modal mode and students working cooperatively are all at risk with the narrowing of the assessment base. Again, it would be necessary to negotiate with stake-holders in the university sector, the TAFE sector and, critically, the subject associations (ETAQ and QATSOL) to ensure English and English for ESL Learners remained responsive to the 21st century (Recommendation 18) needs after school.

ETAQ assumes that the proposals for 4 tasks are for year 12 only with year 11 being a year of preparation for year 12.

Set text lists are an obvious consideration if an external exam in English is to be considered. This moves away from the model used in Queensland for a long period of time, where texts are suited to the highly diverse nature of students across the state. The current syllabus requires a suitable range of texts in terms of difficulty and range. In order to effectively mark exams written in response to texts, it would be difficult to achieve this without some required text sets. ETAQ would argue that the text list would need to be broad enough for students across the state to be able to have their needs met and to continue to meet the principle of fairness.
The examination seems likely to need to be divided into a number of segments in order to cover a reasonable range of genre as applies in a number of other Australian states.

Moderation procedures

?Comparability is a critical element of the current system with the Review having identified the ‘use of classroom teachers’ judgements of students’ performances and work’ as a ‘strength’ of the current system. ETAQ argues that this system could be further strengthened to facilitate an improvement in the integrity of the system. ETAQ believes the ‘blind re-assessments of student work’ (Recommendation 8) should offer increased integrity to the moderation system. The indication that ‘when a problem is identified, all student work in that subject in that school is re-marked’ (Recommendation 8) suggests the practical problems of:
• Who is completing the remarking?
• Supervised by whom? Checked by whom?
• What support will be provided for a school in this situation?

The ratification element (Recommendation 8) also presents practical problems of when the checking process will occur and how anomalies will be resolved:
• Is there an assumption that, for students who achieve well at school level and less well in the externally marked assessment, that their school assessments are necessarily invalid?
• Will the current principle of ‘latest and fullest’ be respected? If not, will that not fly against the principle of equity?
• Will the assessment for university entry only be year 12 items?
• Will there continue to be a monitoring process whereby schools receive feedback on the integrity of their assessment items and their marking in year 11, in order to give them the best chance to provide best support to their students in year 12?

Moving to a system of 10 marks for each of 3 internal assessments (Recommendation 5) begs the question of whether this would be based on criteria. ETAQ would argue use of criteria would be essential to the integrity of the system (as opposed to a purely norm-based result). English results are currently reported using 5 sets of criteria, in practice divided into 15 gradations. The 10 point scale offers a much narrower range of marks which does not match with Recommendation 1, which asks for a ‘finer scale’ for the use of universities. The federal government has also required that students are reported on a 5 point scale.

ETAQ notes that there exists a considerable disparity in how the current 5 point scale is used, from state to state. In some states, a D result constitutes a pass whereas in Queensland, a C result is required for a pass.
Currently the panel system enables a proportion of teachers access to quality professional development by reviewing work from a number of schools. This has the effect of sharing practice in a wide range of teachers and therefore building the integrity of the assessment used in schools. Recommendation 9 proposes a guild of Assessment Supervisors. If the numbers of staff involved are significantly reduced, the overall integrity of the school-based assessment will be compromised and further spending on professional development will be required to make up for the loss of training. ETAQ argues for the maintenance of strong numbers of English teachers being involved in the guild.

Implementation timeline

The costs of this system will be extensive if it is to be appropriately funded and appropriately prepared for by training teachers across the state. The suggestion that this system be phased in over a period of time has the potential to have a very negative effect on students who would be required to continue to prepare for the QCS test (which takes much effort and school time), as well as preparing for the new English (and Maths and Science?) externally marked assessment. This would create a very burdensome impact on students if this continued for a number of years.

ETAQ argues that, if this system is to be instituted, it should be prepared for thoroughly, funded thoroughly and implemented in a way to minimise negative impacts on students and staff. Dual systems, over a number of years, would create an untenable burden on students and staff.

The introduction of such a system would require the first group of students to be given a fair and reasonable preparation for the assessment. Based on practice in other states who complete such tests, past tests would need to be created to give students and teachers a reasonable means of thoroughly preparing students. It would break the principle of fairness to give little preparation to the first group of students sitting the exam.

Subject selection would be affected by a change of system like this. Therefore, year 9 subject selection would be affected as it impacts on year 11 subject selection. Therefore, the minimum time for implementation would have to be 2019. Considering that the senior subjects have not yet been implemented in Queensland, it would be inappropriate to develop syllabi and courses locally, knowing that such a major change might be around the corner. Therefore ETAQ would expect that the new Senior English are introduced in the same process as the change in assessment mode.

Impact on Subject Selection – Authority and non-Authority subjects

There is no mention in the review of the relationship between current Authority and non-Authority subjects (Recommendation 22). There also seems to be no discussion of the students who currently use the QTAC system to achieve entry into TAFE courses. ETAQ would argue that the English Communication course should still be an alternative for TAFE entry, offering an alternative pathway to the current Authority English course.

Universities have currently decided to offer an alternative pathway to students through the ranking system. The current system of university entry using a system of rankings is not discussed in the Review, even though it affects a proportion of current tertiary aspiring students. If universities are choosing the method of choosing candidates, does this suggest that entry through the ranking system will continue, still splitting the means of university entry?
Subject selection is likely to be strongly impacted by changes made to the subject selection processes. ETAQ believes that it makes no sense to treat this as a separate and imponderable element, with full responsibility borne by QTAC. The system needs to be elaborated, including the changes to QTAC, before decisions can be made about the new system.

ETAQ proposes that any changes made to which subjects universities require as pre-requisites eg English and English for ESL Learners, should be a matter of consultation with a range of parties including subject associations such as ETAQ, QATESOL, universities and schools.

It would also be regrettable if a range of subjects offered or encouraged to be offered were negatively affected by decisions over which subjects had exams attached and which did not.


The Review has suggested radical changes to the Queensland interface between schools and universities. The introduction of a 50% exam is a major step and could potentially disenfranchise a significant number of students whilst placing a heavy burden on teachers who will be tasked with preparing students effectively for the exam. ETAQ is concerned about the potential for these changes to be processed without sufficient funding and in an ad-hoc way. ETAQ believes that a 50% external examination is too large a proportion for the subject English and that a different proportion should be considered.

ETAQ is also concerned about the potential loss of professional development if the moderation system is significantly reduced in order to fund other changes. ETAQ argues strongly that any change process needs to include subject associations such as ETAQ to advocate for the best interests of students and teachers.

ETAQ further questions whether a complete separation of QCAA’s and QTAC’s functions in terms of the school/university interface will result in better outcomes for students in schools.

Author:Fiona Laing, ETAQ President

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