The following letter was submitted for possible inclusion in the edition of The Australian for Monday 13 October 2014 but, alas, it was not selected for publication.
Woolly phrases in the eye of the beholder
In reporting on the imminent release of the report of the review of the Australian Curriculum by Professor Kenneth Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly, Greg Sheridan cites “creative-thinking skills” as an example of the “woolly phrases” that need to be removed from the document (“Back to basics in new curriculum: literacy and numeracy to the fore”, 11-12/10). The General Capability he seems to be referring to is, in fact, called critical and creative thinking.
In an opinion piece published in this newspaper on 10 January (“Putting critical content back into curriculum”), Education Minister Christopher Pyne wrote that the reformed curriculum needed to focus on what he called “21st-century skills”. His list of these included both “critical thinking” and “creativity”. These do sound rather like what Sheridan condemns as “woolly”.
And yet, in an opinion piece in the weekend edition (“Christopher Pyne’s noble quest for academic rigour”), Sheridan goes so far as to suggest that Pyne might be developing into “one of Australia’s greatest education ministers”.
Are the same phrases only woolly when they’re used by people other than the minister?
President, Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE)
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Below are shown the recommendations from the Matters/Masters report -
Redesigning the secondary-tertiary interface: Queensland Review of Senior Assessment and Tertiary Entrance
At the end of most recommendations are queries/comments (shown as a, b, c etc). Please post at the end the following:
A meeting will be called, in the coming weeks, to seek input to develop an ETAQ response to the recommendations.
The OP system should be discontinued and the interface between secondary completion and university selection should be redesigned. The implications are that SAIs would no longer be generated, OAIs, OPs and FPs would no longer be calculated, and the QCS Test would be discontinued. Under the new model, Subject Results would be reported on a finer scale for use by universities in their selection decisions.
a. Does the “finer scale” mean that syllabuses will be rewritten to provide for more than 5 levels of achievement? Does the vocabulary exist in English for 10 levels or more to be explicitly described?
b. There is a need here to indicate a marking scale that will be used. Each item in a folio currently has 15 levels of achievement, from A+ to E-. If school based pieces are marked out of 10, that would constitute fewer levels? If the external ‘piece’ is marked out of 30, the skills required of markers would be very high indeed – or will there actually be 3 pieces in the exam, each marked out of 10?
c. Don’t the states have an agreement to report on student achievement on a 5 point scale?
Responsibility for certifying student attainment in senior subjects should be separated from responsibility for selecting applicants for admission to university courses. The former should be the responsibility of QCAA, working directly with schools. The latter should be the responsibility of the universities and their agent QTAC.
a. Will this separation be real? Schools will continue to be judged by university admission rates and will therefore be influenced by whatever system the universities put in place.
b. Will the government or QCAA have any input into any process of scaling various subjects eg comparing English to English for ESL Learners?
Student attainment in each Authority Subject should be reported by QCAA in the form of a "Subject Results" indicating the level of knowledge, understanding and skill that the student has attained. These should be directly comparable across teachers and schools and function as standalone measures of senior secondary attainment, independently of how they might subsequently be used.
a. Only Authority Subjects are mentioned here. What system would apply to subjects like English Communication?
b. If the OP is to be abolished, will it still be meaningful to distinguish between “Authority” and “Authority-registered” subjects?
c. If there are still two tiers of subjects, those which contribute to university entrance and those which don’t, will not some schools continue to direct large numbers of students into the non-tertiary entrance subjects (appropriately or inappropriately depending on one’s perspective)?
The certification of student attainment in each senior subject should be based on a set of four specified types of assessment activities. QCAA should specify the nature of each activity, the conditions under which it is to be completed and the marking scheme for assessing students' performances. One of the four assessment activities should be externally set and marked by QCAA.
a. What would the 4 types of assessment activities be? For English would they include: extended writing, oral presentation, multimodal digital text, short answers, multiple choice questions?
b. When would the assessment activity externally set and marked by QCAA be conducted? In Term 3 of Year 12? In Term 4?
c. Would the QCAA assessment be one piece of writing (one genre only)? If so would it not skew the balance of the profile, being worth 50% of the total? 50% essay or 50% creative writing or whatever it is?
d. Does this recommendation really mean “four specified types of assessment activities” or just four assessment activities?
e. Does this assume the QCAA assessment will lead to ‘set texts’ on which to base this assessment?
Students' Subject Results should be reported as integers on a scale of 1 to 60, with the suppression of a total mark of 0. Each Subject Result should be calculated as the sum of a student's mark on the external assessment (in the range 0 to 30) and marks on the three assessment activities set and marked by teachers (each in the range 0 to 10). Teachers' assessments should not be statistically scaled against the external assessment.
a. Currently, under the existing criterion-based system, it is seen as inappropriate for schools to just sum marks for different assessment tasks.
b. A similar comment to that made for Recommendation 1 is relevant here. For how many levels of achievement will explicit verbal descriptions be possible? 10? 60? Will we still really be operating in a criterion-based system?
An External Assessment in each subject should be set and marked by QCAA and completed at the same time under the same supervised conditions in all schools. If resourcing is an issue, priority should be given to developing External Assessments for subjects with high enrolments, subjects which are foundational for university courses, and subjects for which external assessment is most practicable. For the vast majority of senior subjects, the External Assessment should contribute 50 per cent of the Subject Result.
a. English would surely be a candidate for the proposed external assessments.
b. The problem of the percentage of the cohort that takes English Communication as opposed to English would still remain.
c. Recommendation 3 refers only to Authority Subjects. Would these external assessments apply to Authority-registered subjects like English Communication?
Three School Assessments should be specified for each subject. The nature, intentions and parameters for these three assessment activities should be specified by QCAA, with teachers in schools annually designing local versions of each. The three School Assessments and the External Assessment should be designed jointly to provide appropriate coverage and balance of the subject syllabus and in general should address different kinds of learning and achievement within the subject.
a. This recommendation says “each subject”. Does it really mean that, or just each Authority Subject?
QCAA should assure the validity and reliability of School Assessments in each subject through a revised approach to moderation that includes three elements:
• "Confirmation" of accurate application of marking schemes - For each of the three School
Assessments, QCAA checks that schools' applications of marking schemes are accurate and consistent across teachers and schools. This is done through "moderation" meetings in which teachers undertake blind re-assessments of student work against the relevant 10- point scale. QCAA also conducts annual spot sampling and blind re-assessments to check the consistency of marking across schools. Where a problem is identified, all student work in that subject in that school is re-marked.
a. How, by whom and when would all student work be re-marked? There are significant resources and teacher workload implications here.
b. Contrary to the intention of the review to “recognize and preserve strengths of the current arrangements’ amongst which it includes “the use of classroom teachers’ judgements of students’ performances and work, and believe that this aspect of the current system must be preserved as significant element of future assessment arrangements”, the approach here reads as opposite to the current moderation approach where panels look to support school decisions, or providing advice, justified using evidence matched to syllabus standards. Surely there would be a scale of tolerance regarding the difference of judgement about individual items?
c. What principles will underpin this moderation process? What about “fullest and latest” which recognizes the progress (often significant) of students throughout the course, especially students with English as an Additional Language, socio-economically disadvantaged studetns, or other students who begin the course academically behind their peers?
• "Ratification" of Subject Results - At the end of Year 12, QCAA checks each school's results on the four assessments for anomalies. If anomalies are identified, then these are investigated and resolved before verifying students' marks on the four assessments. Once anomalies are resolved, the ratification of students' Subject Results for certification follows.
d. Time frame for ratification will be interesting. Is this ratification process happening whilst students are still at school?
An appeals process will be available to students after they receive their Senior Statements from QCAA (or in some other way as determined by QCAA). QTAC should be included in discussions about the appeals process.
QCAA should establish a guild of Assessment Supervisors to provide guidance in relation to the proposed moderation processes (the endorsement of assessment activities; the confirmation of marking standards; and the ratification of Subject Results) and to assist in teacher capacity building.
a. This is probably a good idea but training would need to be provided for such people to have credibility.
The Senior External Examinations currently developed by QCAA should be discontinued. Instead, all students who are undertaking a senior subject should be required to complete the four assessment activities specified by QCAA for that subject (the three School Assessments and one External Assessment).
Tertiary institutions should make as transparent as possible the basis on which applicants are selected for admission to tertiary courses. This should include clarity about the nature of the evidence to be considered (for example, subject results, aptitude test scores, interviews), course prerequisites, any preferential weighting to be applied to subject results, and any processes for aggregating student results to rank applicants.
a. Tertiary institutions would need to make all decisions on subjects available 3 years before this process begins. Otherwise, students making subject selections in years 9 and 10 may be seriously disadvantaged.
The current responsibilities of QTAC for processing applications to undergraduate courses and implementing institutions' admission rules and procedures should be extended to include any scaling and aggregation of senior Subject Results to produce rankings of course applicants.
a. It is noted that there is no indication of how the scaling might work in this document. It is to be hoped that schools will have input into the process since subject selection will be heavily impacted by decisions around scaling of subjects.
b. Will there be a further report on proposals for scaling and possible university entry requirements? Will current arrangements around universities allowing the entry of students studying English for ESL Learners be maintained?
If tertiary institutions choose to construct an ATAR, then this should be computed using an inter subject scaling of Subject Results reported by QCAA (each on a 60-point scale). In setting new eligibility rules tertiary institutions should consider reducing the number of subjects and restricting combinations of subjects.
The Queensland Government should make the legislative changes required to divest the QCAA of its current responsibilities relating to tertiary selection (including scaling and aggregating results to produce rank orders of tertiary applicants).
a. Is the QCAA not the body most responsive to schools, understanding the effects on subject selection etc? Staffed by those coming from schools?
The Queensland Government should invest additional funding in the creation of high-quality assessment and certification processes to underpin a reformed senior secondary credential. A priority order of subjects should be established in the event that it is not possible to fund
the development of externally set and marked assessments in all senior subjects.
a. Not yet hearing of the need for funding for schools/teachers to be upskilled to be able to meet this ‘brave new world’ of external exams? To introduce such a change will require high levels of PD for teachers in order to not disadvantage students in the first years of implementation.
The QCAA should continue to build its staff capacity in educational assessment, educational measurement and information and communication technologies.
The QCAA should build into its assessment processes a greater focus on skills and attributes now being identified in senior secondary curricula as essential to life and work in the 21st Century (for example, teamwork, problem solving, creativity, verbal communication).
a. These skills (teamwork, problem solving, creativity, verbal communication etc) are very laudable yet seem to be just the skills not at all likely to be covered in what will now be the 50% component of the new program, the external exam – in English, the big essay? Those skills have now been reduced to a maximum of 1/6 of the whole mark in English, it would seem.
The Queensland Government should devise a multi-platform information strategy to precede and accompany any significant changes or reforms to senior assessment and tertiary entrance.
a. Teachers and subjects associations would be looking for significant funding prior to such changes. Professional development of senior teachers and administrators will be crucial for this system to have credibility.
b. Recent announcements of curriculum being announced in The Courier-Mail during the September/October break and expected to be taught by teachers in term 4 (around alcohol and drug education) is an eg of politicians not understanding how schools work nor the time it takes to implement a program in a school.
Queensland tertiary institutions should undertake a review of their admissions processes, including options for comparing and selecting applicants to competitive tertiary courses. This review should consider the appropriateness of constructing a single rank order of school leavers regardless of the course or institution to which they are applying, and options for ranking course applicants (ATAR; a "points system").
a. Is funding available for universities to undertake this work? Given universities operate on federal funds, is consideration of resources being considered?
Queensland tertiary institutions should consider enhancing technical capacity within QTAC to undertake any new scaling procedures to produce rank orders of course applicants. Consideration also should be given to establishing a high-level Technical Committee to oversee the technical quality of these procedures.
The proposed QT AC Technical Committee should, as part of its responsibilities, monitor on an ongoing basis any impact (positive or negative) that tertiary selection processes have on the senior secondary school, including any impact on students' choices of subjects, and recommend changes to selection processes where appropriate.
a. Is there a preferred model of ‘impact on students’ choices of subjects? What is the government’s desired proportion of authority to non-authority subjects? What constitutes success or failure in this realm?
As part of the Queensland Government's commitment to further development of the Queensland Certificate of Education, consideration should be given to enhancing the capacity of QCAA to develop and deliver a world-class senior secondary qualification. This may include establishing a group of specialist staff within QCAA capable of further conceptualising, leading and implementing the recommendations of this Review. It may also include the creation of two separate authorities, one with responsibility for curriculum and assessment in Years K-9, the other with responsibility for Years 10-12.
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The federal government has commissioned KPMG to investigate the usefulness/value of the Asia Education Foundation. Garry Collins is asking for your urgent input as he has a conference on October 9 to pass your thoughts on. Please blog your thoughts or email Garry.
1 Can you briefly describe your involvement/interaction with the AEF?
2 Why do you think the AEF and its activities are needed?
4 What do you view as government’s role in addressing this need?5 Could the AEF’s activities be provided by any other government department or agency (state or federal), non-Government organisation or private company?
6 How effective do you think the AEF has been in (please provide qualitative responses and rate your responses, with one being ‘strongly disagree’ and five being ‘strongly agree’):
• aligning key stakeholders to the Asia agenda to undertake initiatives to support Asia relevant curriculum and capabilities in schools
• improving school leader engagement and competence in leading schools to deliver Asia related content
• improving teacher competency in delivering Asia learning in schools
• improving student engagement with Asia learning in schools
• responding to changing policy environment and external needs?
8 Have there been any unintended benefits or costs associated with the AEF? If so, what are these?9 What could you improve about the program design or delivery to achieve a greater impact?
10 Would the objectives/outcomes of the AEF continue to be met if Australian government funding ceased? What would be the impact of ceasing the funding?
12 What should the future focus of the AEF be?13 Is there anything else you want to add about the AEF in general?
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The NAPLAN 2014 State Report: 2014 is available now for your digestion. It is full of teaching implications/suggestions. Have a chat below about how your students managed this year's NAPLAN test.
The Australian Association for the Teaching of English is consulting with Rob Randall at the end of October at our AGM and we would love to take your thoughts into that meeting.. The report can be viewed here.
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The Courier-Mail of Friday 26 September 2014 included an opinion piece by Christopher Bantick which commented on the recently released recommendations of the ACER report into Queensland's system of senior school assessment and tertiary selection. It was entitled "External exams improve position".
I responded to this piece and an edited version of the letter below was published on the letters page of the edition of the paper for Saturday 27 September. The underlined words were deleted and the bracketed ones inserted. The letter was in the "in Brief" section and the paper used no heading. In addition, the paper printed the edited letter as a single paragraph.
Education commentator needs to do homework better
Melbourne-based teacher and commentator Christopher Bantick writes about the recent ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research) report on proposed reforms to senior school assessment in Queensland (“External exams improve position”, 26/9).
He accurately says that the report recommends that there should be four assessments in each subject, three internal and one externally set and marked. But he then tells us (says) that “there has been no mention of weighting of these assessments”.
What this demonstrates is that he has either not read or not understood Recommendation 5 of the report. This proposes that student results be reported on a 60 point scale with the external assessment contributing 30 points and the three internal assessments 10 points each.
Bantick has never taught in Queensland and has no first-hand experience of the state’s existing secondary school assessment system. If The Courier-Mail is to pay this Victorian for his comments on school education in Queensland, it should at least insist that he do his homework properly.
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Early Career Conference
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This is the first time I have been to an ETAQ conference and it was really sensational to get so much at all of the sessions.
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