From the Director of Teaching and Learning

Assessment and Reporting – Feedback Invited

Last year I wrote that changes to the HSC have had a flow-on effect throughout our school. The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) have encouraged all schools to replace some of their traditional summative assessment tasks with formative assessment practices. They argue that the best tasks don’t just rank students’ performance, they should also help students to learn. As a result, we are introducing changes this year that are important for all parents to understand.

Perhaps the most obvious change planned for Years 7-12 is that we will no longer run a Half Yearly Examination period. NESA mandated this for Years 11-12 and we believe it is best for all year groups to take a similar approach. A limited number of courses (e.g. Mathematics) will continue to run two exams in Years 7-10, but these will be spaced apart on the assessment schedule not grouped into a single exam week.

A second change is that we intend to make more widespread use of the Common Grade Scale to report progress in Years 7-10. NESA advises schools to use this scale in primary and junior secondary as follows:

A: The student has an extensive knowledge and understanding of the content and can readily apply this knowledge. In addition, the student has achieved a very high level of competence in the processes and skills and can apply these skills to new situations.

B: The student has a thorough knowledge and understanding of the content and a high level of competence in the processes and skills. In addition, the student is able to apply this knowledge and these skills to most situations.

C: The student has a sound knowledge and understanding of the main areas of content and has achieved an adequate level of competence in the processes and skills.

D: The student has a basic knowledge and understanding of the content and has achieved a limited level of competence in the processes and skills.

E: The student has an elementary knowledge and understanding in few areas of the content and has achieved very limited competence in some of the processes and skills. 

At first glance it might seem there is little to be gained by reporting progress through grades versus marks. It is therefore important to note that the grades focus on what a student can do relative to each syllabus. Raw marks only ever identify how well their performance compares with the others around them. As a result, there is no simple conversion rate between marks and grades. Most importantly, a grade of “D” or “E” does NOT in any way represent a failure. Rather, it must be seen as a basic or elementary level of success.

I have sometimes found that students think they are doing well when comparing their marks with their friends, but they had a false sense of progress when compared with students from other schools. At the other end of the scale, low marks can discourage students unnecessarily even when they have actually gained a basic level of knowledge and skills from their course.

These issues can be complicated to grapple with (even for teachers) so I invite you to email me to provide feedback about the proposed changes, or to contribute your own ideas about assessment and reporting at William Carey.

Michael Nightingale
Director of Teaching and Learning