My coachees did rather well last year, then

17 Sep

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald has one of those education stories that could cause distress to HSC students and their parents unless they are particularly well-informed: Students ‘let down’ by marking system.

THE Higher School Certificate marking system is cutting out too many high-level English students, say teachers.

The NSW Board of Studies said it will act on concerns the state’s English teachers raised about last year’s disappointing HSC results.

Students in the advanced English course achieved the lowest level of top results since the new HSC was introduced in 2000. Only 5 per cent of the 27,500 students enrolled in the advanced English course last year scored between 90 and 100 in the HSC.

That compared with 15 per cent of the 26,000 students who sat the same level of mathematics.

The proportion of HSC students who achieved the top (band 6) result of 90 to 100 in advanced English dropped from 8 per cent in 2004 to 6 per cent in 2006.

In 2001, it fails to mention, no students at all achieved Band 6 in Standard English, and that certainly caused some angst at the time. The key point is the bell curve no longer rules the HSC results. Marks are not straitened statistically to fit a prescribed pattern year after year, so they will vary from year to year. Further, because the marking is standards-based, it is entirely conceivable that there could be subjects where everyone (or no-one) gets the top band: minority subjects like Ancient Greek come to mind. Again, comparisons between one subject and another, like that in the story between English and Maths, are really not valid. Unfortunately, that fact and the calculations that produce a Universities Admission Index seem contradictory; at least I think they do. The UAI is a complex ranking exercise. Whether results are classified as Band 6, 5, 4 or whatever does not affect rank. Someone still comes first in the state, and someone else still comes last. In the past, before 2001, marks were changed or adjusted so that a certain rank produced more or less the same set of marks from year to year, no matter what variations in the quality of answers from one year to another. This particular fiddling was not really questioned until the new HSC began in 2001 when it was abandoned.

There are many factors which may have contributed to the 8% Band 6 one year and 6% Band 6 in another. Just one: pressure on students to attempt the Advanced Course inappropriately. I have seen that happen. There is kudos at stake here, and the feeling that Advanced students are rewarded in the UAI compared with Standard students, and the pressure to avoid “dumbed down” courses. Enter all comers in the Olympic Games and some of them will come unstuck.

But last year my coachees managed to pull through into Band 6, or somewhere reasonably respectable south of that. My predictions were, I am glad to say, reasonably accurate. This gives me confidence that I am reading the standards fairly well. This year I expect none to make Band 6, though one just might — the one whose essay I am currently working on here. In that case, however, he may fall short under real exam conditions, and he has an assessment record working against him. The others have no chance. They just do not ever come up to the standards for Band 6 and never will. What I can help them achieve is the best mark they can, and that could be into the 80% range, which would serve their UAI purposes well enough. One, however, ought never to have done Advanced, in my opinion. He just does not have the gifts for it, and that will show no matter what a teacher or tutor can reasonably do. His doing Advanced English is almost like me swimming against Ian Thorpe. I don’t put it to the students quite like that, but I do tell them honestly where I think their product sits against the standards. I also teach them techniques to maximise their chances. Carefully studying exemplar answers to see how they work is one tool that can be used.

The standards packages are available here.

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Posted by on September 17, 2007 in Aussie interest, Education


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