Friday, 20 March 2015

Queensland Senior Assessment - One Teacher's Thoughts

When I was at school, something became very clear to me - I'm not good at exams. I remember my first experience with block exams - I got a rash all over the right side of the body which the doctor attributed to stress. Medical Certificate in hand I returned to school on the Friday of exam week to sit my Biology, English and Maths B exams in the space of 4 hours. Not a good introduction to exams.

Currently in Queensland, exams aren't the most important piece of assessment for students. They complete exams of course, but it's within a range of other tasks. This allows them to have multiple opportunities to show their learning, but in different ways.

I value the opportunity that I have as a HoD English and a teacher to develop work program within a school context that will engage students. I have taught in a number of schools in my career, and in no school have I done the same thing.

Each context is different. 
Each group of students is different. 
We are able to choose texts and tasks that suit their learning needs and abilities. 
We tailor the opportunities to meet our students needs.

There is a debate in Queensland about the way that we do things. A debate about school-based moderated assessment versus externally-marked assessment.

What's the difference? 
What is unique about Queensland?

In Queensland schools, a work program is designed based on a syllabus. This is put together based on stringent criteria. Each school is in a district and in that district there is a panel of teachers of that subject. They receive the proposed work program, make sure that it meets the criteria outlined in the syllabus and approve or ask for changes. Within a school, after assessment is collected and marked, teachers work together as a team to moderate the assessment. They discuss the pieces, they question each other, they make sure that the mark matches the criteria and standards set out in the syllabus document. In Term 3 schools send a sample of student work to the district panel. Independent panellists examine this work, discuss it, make sure that it represents the standards of achievement and provide advice back to schools. If they don't agree, they ask the school to adjust their result. This is a comprehensive process, and the work is done by teachers who are in schools and working with students. They are the experts.

We don't send our work away to be marked independently. We don't devalue the work of our teachers by telling them that they don't know what they're doing and that someone else needs to mark their work.

Instead we value the professional judgements of our teachers. We value them. We trust them.

We have a test that provides a balance - the Queensland Core Skills Test. Has it been manipulated in recent years? Yes. I've been in schools where an external consultant has come in and demanded students not be allowed to sit the test so that other students can achieve higher results. Is 'gaming' happening - absolutely. But if we are going to rely on data for everything in education, this is inevitable, not matter the testing system. We are naive to think otherwise.

All systems can be improved. Of course they can. Anyone who says that nothing has been done to change the system we currently work under is wrong. In my 14 year career I've seen syllabus processes developed and syllabus documents changed; I've seen tweaks to the assessment regime to meet the needs of our students more widely and their needs. Changes are important and necessary to any system. And they have been happening and will continue to happen.

The ACER Review (click here to read more) has a number of recommendations that I believe should be enacted e.g. pre-approving assessment items - who can argue with that?

However my personal belief is that what we do in Queensland works. How do I know? I'm a panellist. I'm a HoD and I'm a teacher. I work at the chalkface and see this process in all it's forms. It is transparent. It it stringent. It has checks and balances.

I shudder and question my place as an educator if we have a system where the knowledge and skills of our students is reliant upon an externally marked piece of assessment that devalues the work students are completing in schools, especially if one task is worth 50% and school-based assessment, which may be three tasks is worth the same. How is this equitable?

Not all students are good at exams and we would be disadvantaging them. We don't currently have a system of exams and if what is being stated anecdotally in other states is true, we would need to train our students to complete a test. How does this prepare them for real life?

School-based moderated assessment has some exams and some assignments (both written and spoken) in English as well as, in other subjects there are pracs, performances etc. Students complete a range of tasks to best illustrate their strengths and weaknesses. This is valuable. This is real. In real life, in the workplace, students have opportunities to continue to learn and develop their skills. How often will they sit a test for knowledge? And lets face it, if you don't know something, you look it up. You use the skills you've developed through school and life to evaluate the information to find what you're looking for.

These are my thoughts. They don't belong to anyone else but me.

I love the system we have in Queensland and would hate to see it disappear because of misinformation in the media which has rolled out into our wider society. Our system is robust and accountable. Can we make changes to improve it - absolutely, but let's not throw it out altogether. That would be tragic - for our teachers and our students, and in turn our wider society.

If you're a teacher in Queensland and value the system we have, please have your say. There is a survey on the DETE website here and the QCAA will be releasing a survey soon. I will link back to it when it is live.

If we are to have change, let's make sure the teachers of Queensland are heard. You may not agree with me, and that's fine. Have your say too.


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