At the beginning of 2016, I attended one of the first major Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) conferences - arranged to put forward their plans to revolutionise University entrance by replacing the current Overall Position (OP) system with a new Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank or ATAR.
The new system includes a model that uses school-based assessment, which mirrors the current system, but has a new component of external assessment. Mathematics and Science will have a 50% external assessment weighting with other subjects being weighted at 25%.
The ATAR is the primary mechanism, used nationally, for tertiary admissions and indicates a student’s position relative to other students – the adoption of the ATAR brings Queensland in line with other states.
At the meeting I was reliably informed that the last time Year 12 students in Queensland sat an external exam, the song American Pie was riding high in the music charts. And of course, the link that QCAA were making was that our current Year 11 cohort will be the first to sit external exams for 40 years - during Term 4, 2020.
Over the years, there have been many interpretations of the lyrics of American Pie. Don Mclean, who wrote the song, has steadfastly maintained a dignified silence around what they mean – once stating, ‘You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me’. It is probably safe to say that the song is not referring to the demise of Senior external examinations in Queensland in 1972!
Since that inaugural meeting, much planning and training has been put in place to ensure that our students are fully prepared for 2020. Syllabuses have been unpacked and subject training days attended - with staff collaboration to share ideas and strategies enabled at every juncture. To put some detail to this, Year 10 courses now mirror the assessment items that will be met again in Year 11 and then for the final time in Year 12. Thus, by the time a student sits the Year 12 summative assessment, with grades counting towards their final ATAR, they will be well versed in the techniques they need and well used to the style and structure of the assessment itself.
Jacqui Wilton, from the QCAA, attended a meeting at the College in April 2017 to answer the many, many questions we had and present to us the QCCA developmental timeline to enable our planning to be effective.
Some examples of what we now have in place:
Instrument Specific Marking Guides (or ISMGs as QCAA calls them) have been translated for the students such that every student knows what they have to do to attain a certain grade. The cognitive verbs (or command verbs) are explained in a real and authentic manner – again, so that students are acutely aware of what they need to do when they meet one. An example of a cognitive verb is evaluate. Imagine meeting a question, in an exam, which begins with this verb and not knowing that evaluate in this context means to ‘make an appraisal by weighing up or assessing strengths, implications and limitations’ or in another setting an exemplar answer might require the student to ‘examine and determine the merit, value or significance of something, based on criteria’. The College has built in training of these verbs not just in Year 10 to Year 12 but also in Years 7 to 9. All Heads of Faculty have been tasked to develop processes to ensure that there is a common language with regard to the QCAA cognitive verbs and that students fully understand the actions demanded by these verbs.
Similarly, ISMGs are now being used to assess work in Year 9 to ensure familiarity with them before students even reach Year 10 and the QCAA senior courses. These will filter into Years 7 to 8 in 2020. The planning for Heads of Faculty centres around developing ISMGs and ensuring that all students are aware of how ISMGs are used to attain a mark for an assignment and that they are unpacked such that students understand mark differentiators and applicable cognitive verbs.
Our staff have undergone QCAA online courses and many have applied for roles within QCAA to assist with processes such as endorsement (checking the standard of assessment items) and confirmation (checking the standard of assessment). The knowledge and expertise that this will bring back to the College will be invaluable.
Each subject is divided into four units. One strategy we have employed is the Year 10 foundation year. Key concepts pertaining to Unit 1 and Unit 2 are taught and assessed in Year 10.
For many schools the QCAA syllabuses are not begun until Term 1 Year 11. We begin Unit 1 in Term 4, Year 10. This allows time at the end of the course to practise and prepare students for the external exam, an unknown quantity for many Queenslanders. This is where the expertise of colleagues who have taught in states and countries where these are widely used, such as New South Wales and the United Kingdom, will be invaluable.
As I said in my 2018 Yearbook article, a new highly-prescribed syllabus does bring other challenges. One being that a rigid education system stifles the creativity of teachers and their students. We will avoid this and will continue to build the contemporary skills into the curriculum. Our Teaching for Understanding approach will also ensure that we safeguard the deep learning that moves students from knowledge to understanding. With technical knowledge now doubling every 73 days and predictions being made that the equivalent of the last 20,000 years of technological growth will occur in just this century – there is no doubt that the 21st Century is a world that requires flexible thinking and Teaching for Understanding helps to engender that.
Oxford University academics, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne predict that 47 per cent of all employment in America is at risk of being replaced by computers and algorithms in the next 10 to 20 years. A Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation report put the proportion of Australian jobs vulnerable to automation at 44 per cent. The good news is that a Deloitte report, published a few years ago, found that higher education qualifications were increasingly transferable. Translation of skills and understanding is also a key ingredient of our Teaching for Understanding Framework.
It is difficult to imagine or predict our future based on the rapid march of technology. Perhaps I might finish this article by contemplating the (enigmatic) lyrics of another song that was in the charts in 1972 and wondering how close we are to achieving that goal: ‘You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one, I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one’.
Director of Teaching, Learning & Special Projects