How school assessment should be altered amidst COVID-19.

How school assessment should be altered amidst COVID-19.

If you read our last blog on what different states are changing about Year 12 to combat the virus then this will be a follow up to that. However, in the age of COVID-19, situations and responses are changing so rapidly the government measures that I detailed in that initial piece may be out of date. Many states have issued guides about how assessments will be changed and specific guidance for schools and subjects. Please make sure to do your own research for your state and school so to best help your child.

Each state is coming out of the virus at different speeds; the once relatively unaffected Tasmania had a significant outbreak in the northwest of the state as I’m sure most of you are aware. On the other hand, as I write this, South Australia has just gone fourteen days without a new confirmed case. South and Western Australia have optional attendance for schooling from term 2, with Western Australia announcing they may have a policy change from week 4. However, in Victoria, it is still mandatory for those who can educate their children at home to do so. In contrast, NSW will use a staggered approach by having students attend one day a week from week 3 of term 2, increasing days on an ad hoc basis as specified by the government, until hopefully normal schooling has returned by term 3.

Queensland has an even more unusual method: from 11th of May, only Kindergarten, Preparatory, Year 1, 11 and 12 students will be asked to return to school to re-join the vulnerable children and children of health care workers already in attendance. Students from Years 2-10 will continue to learn from home for an indefinite period or if low rates continue, until Monday the 25th of May.  Given the outbreak in the northwest of Tasmania, students who live or attend school in the northwest will return to school on the 4th of May as compared to the rest of the state which returns on the 28th of April.

With that backdrop and different changes to Year 12 assessment different across the states, I will now try and assert general propositions for how Australian schools should handle assessment. Fundamentally, the state education departments cannot drop learning outcomes or objectives altogether as much as possible. Students need to be able to have the same skills going into next year of schooling, university or the workforce as their recent predecessors.

I think an easy way to do this is to reduce the holiday weeks in between term 2 and 3 and reduce them from a month or three weeks in states to one or two weeks only to make up for lost time. Some students may begrudge this but they have missed out in some cases two months of schooling notwithstanding online learning.

Primarily external exams should be thought of with the foremost importance. If students have missed a lot of teaching hours, they will need to catch up to learn them let alone revise them before the tradition exam period in October. Hence, I believe Victoria is correct in already confirming that year 12 external exam period will be moved back to December and that other states should follow suit. If governments, administrators, teachers, and parents don’t want students to be disadvantaged leaving school then they must learn Year 12 content and be examined on it.

The best way to do this is to extend the year. For year 12s it will mean they miss out on a month more  of break, potentially a summer job at most. ‘Schoolies’ might also be cut, but only at the cost of a better education outcome. I’m sure many parents won’t be too disappointed about that. Whether these methods need to be followed for other years I am not sure; if there are other years that would need to do the same then it would surely be Year 11 and possibly Year 10 so schools can ensure students are prepared for their final years.

For assessment throughout the year, obviously students must be given more time to learn the content they have missed out on. This provides four obvious assessment solutions:

  • Have the assessment later in the year.
  • Amalgamate assessments to reduce assessment numbers.
  • Keep the number of assessments but reduce them in size.
  • Simply drop some assessments and thus their learning objectives.

Since, I argued previously that schools and governments should try and keep learning outcomes, I think that adding learning objectives from assessments to others in the latter half of the year could be advisable. In this case, I would allow students more time for the larger assignments. Another way in which this could be achieved – some states are already doing this – is to make assessments smaller in size. This could mean cutting down a word count of an essay from 1500 to 1000 words or less lab hours required for a lab report.

Queensland on the other hand, has cut down internal assessment requirements, which mainly means one less assignment for students. Now this could work, if the education department and schools are sure that this one future assessment could encapsulate the most important learning objectives that the lost assignment would have. In this case maybe more time and a greater assignment length would be advisable. It is only May now so only having two assessments per subject for the rest of the school year may provide a motivational issue for students.

Ultimately, this hasn’t happened within living memory. All of the team at SeeThrough give our sympathies to students, especially those Year 12 during this unusual final year for them, to parents and to teachers. States should follow one or a combination of the options I provided to change assessments. We think the best way going forward is in essence to have as much as possible of the normal curriculum taught and assessed but modified with equitable principles in the forefront of administrators minds.

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