The New HSC in English – What, More Exams…?

One of the features of the recent ETA Annual Conference was the visit from Louise Ward of BOSTES, discussing many of the possibilities for the new HSC course in English.  There were many interesting ideas discussed, but there three that stood out to me.

The Module Related Texts and Standard English

The first was the suggestion that the modules part of the English Standard course could have an external exam that didn’t require students to discuss a related text.  To that many Standard teachers there thought… 

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That would be a big positive for the teaching of the course, as the requirement to find and discuss two related texts for students in that course mostly leads to students either searching the internet for what others have used, asking their teachers, asking each other or, in some cases, school teaching students those related texts. Keeping the selection of related texts to internal assessment in one module would provide schools and BOSTES a chance for more authentic assessment. And the students will say…

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The ATAR English Studies Exam

The second was the possibility that the English Studies course could have an external examination available for those students of the course who want an ATAR, in a similar fashion to current students in Hospitality and Business Services. While some students may feel like this is what will happen to them…

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I think this would be a positive change, because I think it would increase the popularity of the excellent and currently under-utilised course.  Each time I teach the Standard English course, I am struck by the number of students who really struggle with the concepts and demands of the course and are only doing it because they (or often their parents) have a belief that they must have an ATAR at the end of their studies, which means that many students are feeling unenthusiastic about the course. 

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It is clear that such students would be better suited with the skills and ideas taught in the English Studies course. If there was an examination that effectively gave them an ability to execute the skills as well as satisfy a set of externally set standards, that would lead to a more active role for English Studies in English faculties.  It would be crucial, however, that the examination would remain an option, so it wouldn’t turn English Studies into a Standard Lite.

The Extension 2 External Exam

Ever since the ICAC investigation into Extension 2 English, there was been an ever increasing pressure to take more weight away from the external project and more towards assessment that is considered both more “objective” and tamper free.  The latest in a line of these ideas is an external exam. And of course external exams based on prescribed texts are entirely tutor proof…?

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It was explained that this exam would come with two different options – either based on their own process of composition or, like Extension History, based on a set of prescribed research texts. Many of us in the room were not exactly warming to the idea.

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I’m not sure of the purpose or utility of either of these examinations.  An examination based on a student’s own writing processes would be difficult to set and mark, as those processes are considerably different and would be challenging to measure on an objective, centrally examinable scale. The examination on a prescribed set of research texts would also be difficult to reconcile with the nature of the course, which is dedicated to creating a project that is consistent with the students’ interests, rather than conforming to a set of understandings about a narrow set of texts. In that way, it is considerably different to Extension History.

In short, such an exam could very well endanger the course’s existence, as it would be yet another exam to do, another set of things to remember that don’t have a terribly strong link to the project at hand.

Let’s see what comes of this consultative process – hopefully something that has really does have the best way to teach and assess students at heart.

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