Exam reform positive and a lesson to others
IF you study hard enough you will eventually learn something, which appears to have happened in the Queensland education system where following more than 40 years of shunning external examinations for students, we are going to finally abandon the internal assessment process that’s been criticised by parents, principals, administrators and academics. Education Minister Kate Jones, after extensive consultation and having sought expert advice, has announced the controversial Overall Position – or OP – assessment system, introduced 23 years ago, will be phased out to be replaced by a system of external examination and internal school-based assessment.
This move, which will see the use of OPs discontinued beginning with Year 11 students in 2018, has been welcomed by just about all participants in the education system as well as parents and students. Ms Jones has also won the support of her LNP counterpart and former minister John Paul Langbroek, breaking through the bickering that has too often hampered education reform in this state. The change is being brought in gradually, allowing schools and students to adjust and get used to the new system, and there will be enough time to make sure anticipated hurdles or traps are dealt with before the OPs disappear. A taskforce, due to meet within weeks, will watch as the new exam and assessment system is put together and implemented.
Queensland has long suffered because there’s been no external examination to score students across the system while other states have all had this as at least a component of their assessment process. The fact the first trials of the new system will be in core disciplines – chemistry, maths, English, history and geography – demonstrates a sensible approach to the basic skills students need to have the greatest opportunities when they finish high school. We can now have standards that have some meaning across the state rather than being primarily focused on individual schools.
The new system is a good fit with NAPLAN – the testing system that begins early in the schooling years and has already proved to be an evolving success in Queensland – and will stop the gaming of OPs through special tuition tailored for internal subject assessments. Any system must be designed for the greatest benefit for students and so that when young people leave school they are best prepared for the workforce or higher study. If the testing process is part of an education that prepares young people for the real world, with usable skills, it is going to provide Queensland students with greater opportunities in life.
Ms Jones should be congratulated for what she has achieved – tackling a controversial issue that has been deeply entrenched in the Queensland education system but has clearly outlived its usefulness in preparing students for life and providing comprehensively positive schooling. She has done so with genuine consultation and clear policy goals – matched by her communication skills to explain what is needed and what is being done. Mr Langbroek, one of the better LNP ministers, left a system in good order, giving Ms Jones every opportunity to tackle this problem successfully. The way Ms Jones has taken on a big issue in her portfolio, produced reform that’s acceptable to all concerned and presented it in an accessible and sensible manner should be a lesson for her colleagues, too many of whom are struggling with lesser problems.