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HSC: NSW government institutes compulsory literacy and numeracy test for all students

Date: Nov 14, 2017

Sydney Morning Herald, July 19 2016
by Eryk Bagshaw

The HSC will undergo its biggest overhaul in a generation after NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli announced a mandatory literacy and numeracy test, a crackdown on cheats and syllabus changes that will see new science subjects and maths marks being awarded for their level of difficulty.

The sweeping reforms, announced on Tuesday, will see fewer assessment tasks being taken in schools and force all students to meet the literacy and numeracy levels of proficient year 9 students to be awarded their HSC.

The move is expected to heap pressure on students as young as 14, who will have to pass the third-highest level of NAPLAN literacy and numeracy, band 8, to be guaranteed to receive their HSC three years later.

"We don't want the HSC to be just a ribbon for turning up, it's actually got to have meaning," Mr Piccoli said on Tuesday. "You have to do more than write your number on an exam."

In the first set of major changes to the HSC in 17 years, a provision that allowed struggling students to be awarded a HSC but not an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) for completing school without meeting basic benchmarks will be overturned.

"Something needed to be done," said Mr Piccoli.

Director of Commercial Services at the NSW Business Chamber Darren Cocks said businesses were desperate for a return to the fundamentals.

"We are getting butchers, bakers and candlestick makers that are coming and saying that they haven't got enough numeracy and literacy," he said. "There are students who don't know the running order of the calendar. They are saying: 'September, that's in autumn'."

Students who fail to reach the minimum standard by year 9, estimated to be up to 40,000 students or 50 per cent of the cohort, will have repeated opportunities to pass until they finish their HSC or for up to five years after they finish school.

"This is about motivating students in junior high school particularly," Mr Piccoli said. "We do have an issue in NSW that our results aren't as good as they should be."

Year 12 student Jack Fu said the pressure in year 9 would have added to his stress.

"When you are at a younger age you already have parent expectations," said the Cherrybrook Technology High School student. "Then you have to meet another standard, it might add to more stress and change the way I do assignments.

"[But] I would have worked harder, so that could have turned out to be a good thing."

He said the planned changes to the way assessments are conducted, with fewer rote learned essays, a reduction in the number of take-home and in-school assessments to four per year, and more emphasis on analysis and presentations, would help curb cheating across the HSC.

"I know students who will just go and purchase an essay off the internet and then just regurgitate it in an exam. That's not really testing anything," he said.

Mr Piccoli said the minimum literacy and numeracy standard would work in tandem with new guidelines to make sure of the authenticity of the students' work.

"We are making sure that they are not taking it away and getting mum and dad to do it, or Googling it, or getting a tutor to write it for them."

From 2019 students will also have the opportunity to complete an extension science project-based course for the first time, and the difficulty of maths subjects will be scaled to reverse a trend of high-achieving students taking low-level general maths over advanced maths to improve their ATAR.

"There is no silver bullet in education. This is about modernising and making sure they keep up with parents' modern expectations," said Mr Piccoli.

On Thursday, the NSW Teachers Federation said more funding was required to lift standards.

"Gonski funding is essential if all students are to receive the support they need to achieve this literacy and numeracy standard," said Acting President Gary Zadkovich.

Mr Piccoli reiterated that he would continue to lobby recently reappointed Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham to commit to the final two years of Gonski funding.

The changes will impact all students who are currently in year 8 or below.

Students with language backgrounds other than English or special considerations will have pathway programs developed for them to gain their HSC, while general students who fail to meet the year 9 level will be eligible for a record of school achievement.