Senior school assessment

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 22 January 2015

An edited version of the letter below was published in The Courier-Mail of Thursday 22 January 2015. It was submitted in response to an opinion piece by Professor Geoff Masters and Dr Gabrielle Matters that had appeared in the paper the previous day. Underlined words were deleted and bracketed ones inserted. They also adjusted my paragraphing. The paragraph breaks below are those of the printed version and differ a little from what I submitted. The paper's heading for this and another letter was "Inconsistencies will test reforms".

Year 12 assessment system

ACER (Australian Council for Education Research) researchers Geoff Masters and Gabrielle Matters respond to some criticisms of the recommendations arising from their review of the state's OP system ("Assessing the value of changes to Year 12 examination system", 21 Jan).

A problem with reviews like this is that the recommendations are usually designed as a comprehensive package. Unless most of the proposals for change are adopted together the intended integrity and balance will not be achieved in the new system.

Unfortunately, governments often cherry pick the recommendations, implementing some that are considered relatively easy and politically attractive while ignoring others that are more difficult and expensive.

In their report, Masters and Matters propose that, instead of the 25 steps of the current OP scale, student achievement in Year 12 should be reported on a "more fine-grained" 60 point scale. In itself, this seems to make good sense.

Curiously, however, performance on each of the proposed 3 (three) school-based assessments is to be graded on a 10-point scale. In some subjects like English, this is less fine-grained than current practice. In many schools individual assessment tasks in English are, in effect, marked on a 15-point scale with each of the 5 (five) levels of achievement sub-divided into 3 (three) bands (mid, upper and lower).

In other schools, teachers grade individual pieces of work on a 50-point scale with 10 internal steps within each of the levels (level) of achievement. This seems to suggest (suggests) an internal inconsistency in the reviewers' thinking.

Garry Collins
Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland

Posted in: Assessment   0 Comments

Views about teacher education

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 17 January 2015

The following letter was submitted for possible publication in The Australian on Wednesday 14 January 2015 but it did not make it into print. After sending the letter it occurred to me that I could hqave added this final sentence: It is probably more accurate to say that some newspapers have been captured by ideology.

Evidence for views about teacher preparation

Justine Ferrari writes, apparently approvingly, that NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli insists on having evidence to support any proposals to reform the state's school system ("No war, just a revolution", 13/1).

And yet, earlier in the piece, without mention of any evidence, she baldly states that many education faculties are "captured by ideology".

Having a genuine evidence base for views would be a good guideline for many journalists.

Garry Collins

Posted in: Teacher education   0 Comments

The teaching of phonics

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 9 January 2015

In the last several days The Australian newspaper has been running a little campaign on the teaching of phonics. While this issue more directly relates to primary school teachers than to most ETAQ members, I thought the following would be of interest.

Specifically in response to a Bill Leak cartoon on the topic, I submitted the following letter to the editor. Below that again you can see the version that the paper printed.

Apart from anything else, I find it interesting that the paper's substitute opening sentence treats "phonics" as a plural noun ("phonics are"). I wonder if they would also write that economics are an interesting subject. Inconsistently, they did not change my "phonics is" in the final sentence.

What I submitted

Phonics not the whole deal in literacy

If offensiveness and misrepresentation are the criteria, then Bill Leak's "acadomedians" cartoon  (8 Jan) is one of the best I've ever seen.

Its middle speech balloon contains the very common English word want. How does phonics alone tell a beginning reader that this word does not rhyme (rime?) with pant?

And in the first speech balloon, word does not contain the same vowel sound that we find in ford. How does phonics alone help there? Further, how does phonics indicate that of does not contain the F consonant?

Phonics is an important element in developing literacy in English but it is important for people to remember that it can never be the whole deal.

Garry Collins
president, Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE)

What The Australian printed

For want of phonics

PHONICS are not the whole deal in literacy. If offensiveness and misrepresentation are the criteria, then Bill Leak's cartoon (8/1) is one of the best I've ever seen. Its middle speech balloon contains the common English word want.

How does phonics alone tell a beginning reader that this word does not rhyme with pant? And in the first speech balloon, word does not contain the same vowel sound that we find in ford. How does phonics alone help there?

Phonics is an important element in developing literacy in English but it is important for people to remember that it can never be the whole deal.

Garry Collins, president, Australian Association for the Teaching of English, Stafford Heights, Qld

Posted in: General news   0 Comments

Literacy standards of aspiring teachers

Posted by Garry Collins, AATE President on 5 January 2015

The following letter was submitted in response to an item in The Courier-Mail but it was not selected for publication. The same item appeared in Melbourne's Herald-Sun on 1 January under the headline "Lament over standards as aspiring teachers flop literacy". So what we had was The Courier-Mail copying an item from a Melbourne paper about research almost certainly conducted with a cohort of students in a university in Perth. It must have been a slow news day.

Literacy standards of aspiring teachers

You report poor literacy standards of some education degree undergraduates tested in a research project conducted by an academic at a Western Australian university ("Cannot spell, will teach", C-M Jan 2).

While inadequate literacy skills in any intending teachers is a matter of concern, readers should be careful about generalising too readily from this instance.

The sort of weakness reported is not what I have observed amongst the prospective secondary English teachers with whom I have worked as a sessional tutor at The University of Queensland over the last two years. About two thirds of these students have been in the fourth and final year of a double degree program combining a Bachelor of Arts or equivalent with a Bachelor of Education. The remaining third were working towards a Graduate Diploma in Education after having already completed at least a relevant bachelor degree. A few had masters degrees and one had a PhD.

In the several decades that I was the English Subject Master/Head of Department in two state high schools I would have been very pleased to have had almost any of these people as beginning teachers. I was initially going to write "young people" but some were mature age students who brought varied valuable experiences in other occupations.

Garry Collins
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE

Posted in: General news   0 Comments

Reform of senior school assessment & tertiary entrance

Posted by Garry Collins, ETAQ Immediate Past President on 31 December 2014

The following letter was published in The Courier-Mail of Wednesday 31 Dec 2014 so it was my last for the year. Editing was minimal on this occasion with underlined words deleted and the bracketed one inserted. They also adjusted my original paragraphing. The paper's heading for a collection of three letters beneath a photo of students in an examination hall was " Devil is in the detail for overhaul of education".

Changes to Year 12 assessment

I suggest that your headline "Teachers give tick to school overhaul" (30/12) is jumping the gun.

Most high school teachers I talk to want to see more detail before they will be convinced that proposed reforms to Year 12 assessment and tertiary entrance in Queensland will constitute a net improvement over current arrangements.

The devil is ever in the detail.

Your report suggests that abolition of the Core Skills Test will remove "teaching to a test". But if external assessment in subjects is to be introduced, teachers will naturally focus on preparing students for these exams.

In addition, until it is clear how universities will select incoming students, it is difficult to really know how the new system will work.

Acknowledging that there are problems with the way that the existing OP system is now working (works) does not necessarily mean that all proposed changes are good ones. Sometimes "solutions" create new problems.

Garry Collins
Immediate Past President, English Teachers Association of Queensland

Posted in: Assessment   0 Comments

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