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2020 vision: Students’ past scores key to VCE results in year of COVID

“I was supposed to be filming around the time that we had the hard lockdown, so I had to push back my schedule and change the way I did stuff.”

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Haniyah is one of 83,583 students due to sit at least one VCE exam in the next three weeks, each of whom will be individually assessed for educational disadvantage due to the pandemic and the summer bushfires.

It is a monumental task, never before attempted, which has also required every VCE teacher in the state to put in hours of work assessing their students.

The aim is to restore every student’s results to what they would be without the disruptions of 2020, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority says.

As part of the process, Haniyah was asked to submit a statement to her school, outlining the ways in which she was affected by COVID-19.

Although her school, Mt Alexander Secondary College, did not suffer any closures due to a positive case, Haniyah says the long weeks of remote learning took a heavy toll on her studies.

“The hardest thing has been studying and doing all of my work at home,” she says. “There are seven people in my home in this three-bedroom apartment, so it’s been kind of difficult trying to keep up my grades.”

Haniyah will sit her English exam on Tuesday, the first of five VCE exams she has in front of her. By then her English teacher must have submitted to the VCAA a determination of her expected study score and exam grade had her learning not been disrupted this year. Teachers in her four other subjects will do the same.

If Haniyah’s results fall below the expected mark, they may be increased to better match the teacher’s expectations. Those expectations will be based on data including the student’s results in school-assessed coursework in term one, before any school closures had occurred.

“Students’ final scores on exams will be equal to or higher than their achieved scores,” the VCAA said.

The adjustments will not rest solely on the advice of teachers.

Externally assessed results in the General Achievement Test students sat in October will also be relied on to statistically moderate teachers’ assessments.

Dale Pearce is principal of Bendigo Senior Secondary College, and was on the advisory panel that helped develop the process for consideration of disadvantage.

He says school staff, including wellbeing staff and year level co-ordinators, are putting many hours of work into determining where each student is now and where they would have been had the pandemic not disrupted them.

“Kids should feel really confident that their trauma of this year has been taken into account and they are going to receive the scores that they deserved,” Mr Pearce said.

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The advisory panel decided it was not effective to measure disruption or disadvantage at a school-wide level, says Sue Bell, president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary School Principals.

The mere fact that a school experienced an unplanned shutdown due to COVID-19 was deemed no reason to compensate all students across the board, even in cases where the closure stretched on for weeks.

This is because those closures affected students differently, and in some cases might not have affected their studies at all.

“So they went with a model that is just about, well, let’s pretend COVID never happened, what score would that kid get?” Ms Bell said.

Individual factors that will be considered include a COVID-19 case in the family, a lack of technology or a quiet study space in the home, students dealing with increased family responsibilities and mental health.

Shayne Rule is principal at Lakeview Senior College in Caroline Springs, where a COVID-19 case in the community forced the school’s closure twice.

He said the disruptions of remote learning affected students in different ways. Some weren’t disadvantaged by remote learning at all, and will likely perform just as well in their exams as they would have in an any other year.

“It’s really only relevant for the kids who struggled,” he says. “The kids that have thrived aren’t going to be considered to have been disadvantaged by what’s happened.”

A few years ago Lakeview suffered a bomb scare in the middle of VCE exams in biology and maths, Mr Rule says. The experience has given him confidence in this year’s process.

“It was very clear from the way VCAA dealt with the situation that our students weren’t disadvantaged, so experience tells me they will be really effective in taking into account the disadvantage students have faced,” he said.

Exams have also been modified to reflect forced changes to the curriculum this year due to remote learning.

Some exams have been stripped of questions on subject matter that was removed from VCE study designs earlier in the year, to ensure students are only tested on things they studied.

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