Piccoli launches ambitious plan to spur academic achievement
Jul 21, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
Radical changes to NSW exams will require students to meet mandatory literacy and numeracy benchmarks before they can be awarded a Higher School Certificate.
A suite of reforms announced this week by state education minister Adrian Piccoli also includes the introduction of a science extension course, opportunities for higher maths study and updated curricula for maths, English, science and history.
The changes are designed to reduce student stress, encourage deeper analysis, curb cheating and drive up numeracy and literacy skills which have seen the nation’s international academic ranking slide dramatically over the past decade.
School leavers in 2020 will be the first cohort required to reach the new standards.
Announcing the reforms this week, minister Piccoli said: "This is about motivating students in junior high school particularly.
"We do have an issue in NSW that our results aren't as good as they should be.
"We don't want the HSC to be just a ribbon for turning up, it's actually got to have meaning.
“These changes will strengthen the integrity and international standing of the HSC and better prepare our students for work, training, university and for life after school.”
Mr Piccoli has been a vocal advocate for capping university teaching course places to encourage higher entry requirements, and recently oversaw the introduction of tough new entry requirements for all NSW teaching applicants.
Now the drive for improved standards has been directed at students, with the new maths and English requirements set at a level equivalent to a minimum of Band 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Year 9 students next year will be the first to be measured when they sit national NAPLAN tests next May.
The minister says pupils will be given a number of opportunities from Year 9 to 12 to demonstrate they meet the targets.
Those deemed at risk of not making the grade in Year 9 - estimated to be up to 40,000 students or 50 per cent of the cohort - will be directed into English and maths courses containing units focussed on essential literacy and numeracy.
If they have not reached the required standard by the end of Year 10, they will need to attempt a prescribed maths or specific English unit until they achieve a pass.
Those still falling short of the standard by the end of Year 12 will not receive the HSC, but will get a Record of School Achievement and have five years after leaving school to pass an online literacy and numeracy test set by the NSW Board of Studies to receive their HSC.
It is the first big change to the HSC in 17 years and removes a provision that has allowed low achievers to be awarded a HSC but not an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) for completing school without meeting basic benchmarks.
Mr Piccoli said that the extra requirements will be introduced in tandem with stress-reducing changes to assessment requirements which will mean fewer rote-learned essays, a reduction in the number of assessments to four per year, and greater emphasis on analysis and presentations.
The new set-up is also designed to minimise opportunities for cheating, a growing problem in the era of smartphones, internet communication and ever-shrinking electronic devices.
"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.
"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."
The minister said students with non-English-speaking backgrounds or special considerations would have pathway programs developed for them to gain their HSC.
Mr Piccoli said the reforms answered the calls of parents, educators and employers for a curriculum which better prepared students for the careers of the future.
His words were echoed by Tom Alegounarias, president of the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW which developed the changes.
“The HSC hasn’t been updated in 17 years,” Mr Alegounarias said.
“It has a proud record and these changes will ensure the certificate remains modern, to meet the needs of all students.”