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ACT Year 12 – what the …..?

By VicePope - 10 June 2008 32

For reasons best known to myself, although a therapist may have some ideas, I searched out the website for the ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies (www.bsss.act.edu.au). OK, I was trying to work out how ACT Year 12 results are calculated and to consider whether an acquaintance who sends his sons to Boys Grammar, at vast expense, because it doesn’t use the ACT system is a dope or a serious thinking type person.

The system described looks like hocus pocus to me. If I have read it correctly, a ranking is given only to students who compete for it, by doing tertiary-related courses. An individual’s subject ranking is based on results within a school, driven towards consistency only by a consultative moderation process. There is a bias to continual assessment. Then there’s a test across the ACT that bears no necessary resemblance to any subject done by any student, which is used to allocate rankings to schools (not students). Then the schools allocate the rankings to students. Oh, and the whole thing is somehow cross-run against the NSW tertiary entrance system, notwithstanding that it’s nothing like it and Canberra has nothing like the range of conditions that NSW has.

The system looks to allow for massive fiddling within schools – if you move poorer students out of tertiary subjects, you do better. It looks to disadvantage those who do better in exams than in continual assessment, even though it’s about getting people into tertiary education that still relies heavily on exams. It seems to mean that a student’s result might bear no direct relationship to how he or she did in any or all subjects or in the aptitude test. And it seems to allow no-one (the student or the school) to be responsible for a poor result.

So, does it make any sense to people who have a clue? I mean teachers and statisticians, and current Year 11/12 parents – I’m none of the above. Is there a better explanation around?

What’s Your opinion?


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32 Responses to
ACT Year 12 – what the …..?
circusmind 4:15 pm 10 Jun 08

Grammar is hardly an underachiever. It achieves top 30 or so every year in the HSC pool of thousands of schools. Unlike the top Sydney schools, it is not selective in any more than the loosest sense of the word. Unlike the Sydney schools, it does not have a culture of tutoring. Unlike the Sydney schools, it does not have access to all the HSC resources available in that city. Unlike the top Sydney schools, it manages a fairly solid balance of academia/sport/life.

The top 10 at Grammar generally all make high 98s and above. A third of the year or more get into the 90s.

The HSC has the advantage of being hard! You can’t do a double-major in photography and dance, and you have to pit your wits against the rest of the state at the end of it all. There’s not as much room for the dodginess I’ve heard allegedly goes on in moderated systems like the ACT.

Above all else, HSC kids harden up and get used to exams. You can pick the HSC kids from the ACT kids at uni……

illyria 3:08 pm 10 Jun 08

Last year at Grammar two boys achieved a UAI ranking of 99.9% and a total of 14 boys earned a UAI of 98% and over. These results are not to be sneezed at.

I have a child at Grammar who will do the HSC (which I did in a NSW state school over 20 years ago) and another child doing the ACT system of schooling and all I can say is that it is “different horses for different courses”.

My biggest comment on the ACT system with its continuous assessment over 2 years, is that there are some overacheiver parents (you know the type!) who drive their children through the process as it enables you to proof read/add/amend work before it is submitted by the student to the teacher for marking and the end result may not actually reflect the childs abilities but instead, Mums or Dads (or both). This is not possible if the child is doing an exam.

At the end of the day, the money is worth it if the outcome suits the particular child.

I am not aware that the HSC option is available to girls in the ACT (unless Radford College offers it, I am not sure about that).

lion 3:03 pm 10 Jun 08

Grammar recently undertook a review of whether to adopt the ACT system. Decided against it.

The HSC is more recognised. And as a Year 12 student there I can tell you that the ACT students (after their UAI estimates) for topping the territory would only just scrape into the top 10 at grammar… (most used to go to the school).

ghughes 1:40 pm 10 Jun 08

Grammar is a high fee paying school with a strong reputation, so it may be attractive to send your kiddy there. They do the NSW HSC so the curriculum is more prescriptive (restrictive) and therefore less likely to change with any changes in teachers/faculty heads.

Given that Grammar is able to attract High SES students from across the ACT (the most educated jurisdiction in the country) you would expect Grammar to blitz the NSW HSC.

However a cursory scan of HSC tables shows that Grammar never appears near the top, it seems to me that as a school, it is underachieving.

But as far as Canberra goes, it does offer an effective old boys network, so regardless of your kiddy’s result, they will never be unemployed.

Depends what you want from a school.

caf 11:47 am 10 Jun 08

peterh: you probably improved their scores, if you failed badly in classes and blizted the AST (since that’ll make the classes you were in look like harder markers).

peterh 11:41 am 10 Jun 08

I was encouraged by my parents to go to college, and was enrolled in physics, chemistry, calculus etc. as i really didn’t want to be there, I of course failed. spectacularly. the computer teacher told me that I would never amount to anything with computers. ha. I left in 1988, after “completing” yr 12. Straight to an apprenticeship. wasted 2 years of my life at college, but for the cards I played in the cafeteria, and handball outside.

not to mention the “delegation” of over achievers who threatened physical violence on me if I sat the AST exams. Not one to let anyone tell me what to do, I sat them, passed with a high score, and delighted in seeing my name above theirs – if they had wanted me not to sit it, they could have just asked….

caf 10:50 am 10 Jun 08

As someone who completed the ACT system, I’m a supporter. I don’t think excluding the worse students from Tertiary-stream subjects really helps, either, despite what some schools might think – the effect of a particularly bad (or good) student on the class average mark and on the AST mark should cancel each other out. What you really want in your class for a maximum score are chronic underachievers, who do badly in class but well in the scaling test.

VYBerlinaV8_the_one_ 10:37 am 10 Jun 08

GnT, perhaps I should clarifiy. I don’t think kids who don’t want to do the right thing should leave, but I do think they should be separated from those do.

My issue is that although kids can still ‘be engaged in learning’, the question to me is whether that is truly valuable. Of course, I don’t want kids dropping out and wasting all day at the mall, but surely putting such kids into programs that actually lead somewhere would be the go (eg apprenticeships).

ant 10:37 am 10 Jun 08

It’s quite a good system. At Grammar, they deconstructed the whole system so we all understood how it worked, and some of us did a friday afternoon activity where we practised doing ASAT-type tests. We generally found that after our results were scaled against our ASAT scores, they went up (some quite significantly), because our teachers tended to mark a bit harder, and they discouraged the girls who had no hope or intention of going to uni from doing it so that brought the average up.

They warned people doing small candidature courses and courses where people were going to get lower scores that their marks would fall, and they did (art, fashion, music, photography etc). while doing courses with large candidatures meant you were pretty safe (maths, english, science etc).

All this analysis and planning was just strategy to maximise our results from school so we’d have choices in what to do next, I think it set us up quite nicely. No one who was crap suddenly got good final results because of it, but most of us were rewarded for working as hard as we needed to, with a good idea of what we needed to do to get where we wanted.

I like the continuous assessment method because there’s not too much loading on one big event, like exams. You can make judgements about how much or how little to do, and if something bad happens, you’ve still got chances to make it up. We did have exams, as school wanted to prepare us for uni, but they weren’t weighted too heavily.

GnT 10:29 am 10 Jun 08

I’m a teacher, but not in the college sector so I am not familiar with the specifics of UAI calculation.

I agree with captain – we (as a society) need to have a deep debate into what entails a ‘better’ education. What do we really want students to come out of school with? An ability to do well in exams? I would like my students to leave school with an open mind and an ability to critically examine arguments. I also want them to have a sense of responsibility and organisation skills. Importantly, education is not about knowing stuff, but knowing how to find out stuff.

VY I think you’ve contradicted yourself. You say you want kids to do compulsory subjects, yet you also say kids who don’t want to be at school should leave. The advantage of the flexibilty of the ACT system is that kids who aren’t interested in academic subjects can still be at school engaged in learning, even if they’re not studying maths and English.

AG Canberra 10:16 am 10 Jun 08

Some important points to note:

Yes – you can be coached to do well in the AST tests – therefore increasing the schools result. We were for two hours a week in Yr12. This helped all students attempting to get into uni.

Yes – you can discourage the “dumb” kids from atempting to get a TER score – helping the school get a better AST result.

Yes – all units are marked on a bell curve – thereby stopping students in smaller classes from all receiving A’s (even if they deserve so).

Certain units also attract different weightings due to their perceived difficulty – maths, sciences english, drama – 100. Economics, legal studies 80.

And It was the case that if you were female and you did science or maths units then your score was weighted higher because it was deemed that girls found it harder to do the classes! (I’m not sure if this is still in place)

isaidtoyou 10:05 am 10 Jun 08

As someone who was educated in the ACT and went to uni in Sydney – meeting a lot of people who had just completed the HSC, and has a younger sister who did the HSC in Sydney; I have to say the ACT system was in my experience far better.
The choice of subjects and the freedom that college gives you to learn, (often learning through mistakes) is a great preparation for uni.
I don’t remember any of my friends being pushed to do non tertiary subjects if they were not doing well. Indeed I missed the majority of a semester due to glandular fever and still managed to walk away with a UAI that could get me into Uni. That flexibility is completely absent from the NSW system which seems very based on one exam, not a 2 year education programme which doesn’t just teach you what to learn, but lets you develop your own motivation and methods of learning.
As said above, The AST is a test to make sure that colleges don’t cheat. While I am not naive enough to say that that would never happen – I think that the current ACT model of senior secondary is much better then other alternatives.

VYBerlinaV8_the_one_ 9:48 am 10 Jun 08

The word ‘better’ is probably a good one to avoid here, given the different outcomes various people expect from formal education. FWIW, I noticed that the HSC prepares you better for university degrees that have heavy exam load (engineering, maths, etc), but is probably less useful for those degrees that have lighter exam loads.

I think the ACT system is probably more flexible than the HSC, in that it allows for a wider range of (and combination of) studies, although I am personally a supporter of making everyone do educational basics (reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic), rather than letting them all off the hook with ‘but I’m not good at / don’t like that, etc’. I don’t think it hurts people to have to do things they don’t really want in order to train their mids a bit. Not a touchy-feely opinion, but there it is.

YoungBerlina will go through the ACT system, however, and probably through a private school, as the stuff I hear going on in public schools nowadays is, frankly, unacceptable to me. I have this view because I went to a dodgy NSW school myself, and want my kid to have better opportunities than that. My thought is that the kids who want to do the right thing and learn should be the highest priority, and those that don’t can get shipped off to a barbed-wire compound for re-education.

neanderthalsis 9:33 am 10 Jun 08

Continual assessment and external moderation in the form of a standardised exam are common to all states senior secondary systems. There is currently a push (it was a Coalition policy that Labor backed much to the chagrin of the Aus Education Union) to have a standardised national system and issue an Australian Certificate of Education and standardised University entrance scores. Combined with a national curriculum framework, it should create more of an even playing field and hopefully the common folk will be able to understand it.

You’re right about the internal fiddling bit, in QLD at least, it is common to encourage the lower performing students into vocational pathways programs and leave the UAE contributing programs to the higher performers. This increases the moderated average for the school, more kidlets in the higher percentile and thus, more top scores.

captainwhorebags 8:34 am 10 Jun 08

It made even less sense when explained to us by a heavily accented Irish dean of studies who talked about “raw course score”, “little black box” and “we do something with your score here”.

The AST (no idea what it is called now, but it was the common moderation test across schools) wasn’t trying to test anything you’ve learnt specifically, rather it was a test of your general capabilities as a student, and, overall how your school compared to others. Ie, if your school turned out a lot of kids with scores of 90+ yet the AST showed that they really only should be getting 70’s, then the school was obviously an easy marker and overall results were adjusted accordingly.

As for your friend, what’s the outcome he’s looking for? A higher mark? A more rigorous education? A school that scores consistently high prepares students well for the HSC. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that the overall education is “better”, depending on what metric you use to measure “better”. As you mention, the disadvantage of the ACT system is that it doesn’t reflect how universities grade their students, ie, heavily biased towards exams (which, btw, seems like a crock to me because I’ve never had a work situation that even closely reflects an exam).

After all the work I did towards getting a TER, a year afterwards I had dropped out of university and that magic number meant very little. There’s more to an education than a ranking.

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