Victorian students could face another test in order to finish the VCE at the end of secondary school under plans being considered by the state government to introduce minimum literacy and numeracy standards.
Education Minister James Merlino has asked the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) to review the two-year program for students in years 11 and 12, known as VCE.
It will be asked to look at how to keep students engaged through to year 12, and whether to introduce minimum standards for literacy and numeracy.
The government said it was the first shake-up of VCE in 30 years.
But the opposition said Premier Daniel Andrews had “literacy and numeracy standards all back-to-front”.
“Under Daniel Andrews’ plan, they will be identifying students with learning problems at the end of their schooling, not at the beginning,” Shadow Education Minister Tim Smith said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This is Daniel Andrews running up the white flag when it comes to education standards and outcomes in our schools.”
The minimum standards proposal
VCE is typically completed over two years and English is a compulsory subject. But there is no requirement to study maths or science.
“What we’re looking at is whether we need to show in greater detail for students, for parents, for prospective employers exactly what standard of literacy and numeracy they’ve reached,” Mr Merlino said.
The VCAA is due to report back in August.
Mr Merlino said the government would engage with experts, parents, teachers, students and principals before making any changes.
The New South Wales government announced minimum standards for the High School Certificate (HSC) in 2016.
Under those changes, students had to do well on their NAPLAN tests in year 9 to be eligible to sit for the HSC.
The NSW government walked back those changes last week following backlash from parents, who said it placed unnecessary pressure on students.
Mr Merlino said the changes in NSW led to higher student drop-outs and he did not want to see a similar situation in Victoria.
Is this a good idea?
Monash University education expert Lucas Walsh said many jobs that existed today would be gone in the future, and it was important students were taught the skills they would need.
“There’s this push towards literacy and numeracy. What kind of skills are needed to learn to learn and to be adaptable across time?” he told ABC.
The teachers’ union said extra tests would not improve literacy and numeracy, and the real issue was funding.
Meredith Peace from the Australian Education Union said extra testing could led to vulnerable students dropping out of school.
“When students struggle it is typically because they face multiple barriers to learning, and their schools simply do not have the funding to provide the additional learning support that the individual student needs,” she said.
Associate Professor Walsh said periodic reviews of assessment systems were a good idea.
But he warned focusing on assessment could jeopardise the learning environment.
What do students say?
Year 11 student at Melbourne Girls College, Mia Sherman, said it would be a “burden” for struggling students.
“I think students are already at risk of being left behind by the VCE and dropping out. That could potentially place another barrier between them and continuing with year 12.
“VCE is very stressful as it is, so to say to those students ‘hey, we’re going to add another assessment’, it’s a lot to handle.”
She said literacy and numeracy skills should be bedded down long before VCE, and there was not much room for students to improve by the time they were in their senior years.
“Students who haven’t got those skills aren’t necessarily going to pick them up.”