State announces major school changes

Queensland high schools are preparing to overhaul their tertiary entrance system following a decision to scrap Overall Position (OP) scores, which have been in place since 1992.

Students graduating in 2018 will be the last to receive the scores, which will soon be replaced by an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), bringing Queensland in line with other states.

“We believe this is the right decision to ensure young Queenslanders get the best start at life,” Queensland’s Education Minister, Kate Jones, said in a statement.

“This is all about ensuring that parents, students and teachers have confidence in the senior assessment process. That's why this journey was started and I'm very proud that this Government is taking it forward.”

Under the new model, results will be based on a student's achievement in three school-based assessments and one external test, to be set and marked by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA).

To prepare for the new system, about 20,000 Year 11 students at 264 schools will undergo external assessment trials in May and June this year.

This will involve externally set and graded assessments in chemistry, English, geography, maths and modern history.

Queensland Teachers Union (QTU) vice-president, Sam Pidgeon, told The Educator that the QTU welcomes the new system, particularly aspects of it which strengthen the current system of school-based assessment. 

“We believe it was time for the OP to be reviewed and we welcome the move to an ATAR, though work is still to be undertaken about how the ATAR will be calculated,” she said.

“The biggest change for the state’s high school students is the stipulation that they undertake four assessments per year. This is far fewer than is currently the case in some subject areas, and we welcome that.” 

Of the four assessments, one will be set and marked externally to the school, which is a major change to the existing system.

Pidgeon said the QTU will work with the QCAA to ensure that teachers are well placed to support students to successfully demonstrate their learning in all of the assessments they undertake. 

“In particular, our position is that the external assessment should carry the same value as each of the school-based assessments – this means that it is the same as any other assessment undertaken throughout the year,” she said.

“This is a sensible approach to take in introducing the system to Queensland for the first time.”

In a major change, the external assessment for maths and science will now make up 50% of a student's overall result, while in most other subjects it will contribute 25%.

Pidgeon said this will make the stakes uncomfortably high for students.

“If three assessments undertaken at school count for 50% and the one external assessment to be undertaken will count as 50% of the overall result, it turns that one external assessment into a very high stakes event,” she said.

She added that for a student studying several science and maths subjects, this may mean that they are subjected to five high stakes assessments which will have a major impact on their overall subject result. 

“For this reason, it was the QTU’s suggestion that the 50% of external marks be derived from two external assessments worth 25% of the overall result,” she explained.

“This would achieve the aim of 50% external marks and would address our concerns about single assessments carrying such a large weighting and the associated stress and workload that may place on students.”