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‘Preposterous’: Minister shoots down proposal to scrap HSC exams

“I believe the best option for my year 12 ATAR and HSC examinations is to cancel exams and provide students with a generous estimate mark based off of assessment performance,” said student Daniel Petrevski.

Another student with ADHD and dyslexia said two lockdowns in two years was particularly difficult for students with learning disabilities and mental health issues. “I believe they should get rid of the HSC exams and average our grades out,” she said.

Not happy: Ms Mitchell rejects the Catholic sector’s idea.

Not happy: Ms Mitchell rejects the Catholic sector’s idea.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

However, other educators said it was too early to make a decision about the HSC.“Students have been working towards achieving their HSC for years and improving as they go, [so] to cut them off now seems premature to me,” said Santa Sabina head Paulina Skerman.

The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Angelo Gavrielatos, also said it was too early to make the call. Craig Petersen from the Secondary Principals Council agreed.

Regional schools are still operating as normal, with year 12 attending class. David Smith, the principal of Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth, also said it was too early to cancel HSC exams. “To suddenly create doubt in the minds of HSC kids puts them in a difficult situation,” he said.

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Robin Nagy, the director of Academic Profiles, which examines HSC data for the independent sector, said exams were important because they allowed examining authorities to judge if the assessment marks given by schools were too high or too low.

“What the HSC [exam] provides is a form of moderation from school to school,” he said. If teachers are asked to judge their own students’ work without state-wide exam results to help moderate those marks, “it’s a clear conflict of interest”.

“The situation in NSW is very challenging but the problem with going straight towards a non-external exam is [that] unless you’ve established some kind of mechanism to moderate between schools, it’s extremely difficult to do so.”

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Many students told the Herald they did not want the exams cancelled. “Some of us have had trouble with our assessments and don’t want our final ATAR to be as low as our assessment marks are,” said one student from Northmead in Sydney.

Another, Jackson Boyd from St Luke’s Grammar, said cancelling the exams was a “preposterous idea. We have spent 13 years of our schooling lives being taught about the ‘big, bad, scary test at the end of the road’ and to finally reach it and for it to be cancelled would be quite ridiculous.”

The United Kingdom cancelled its school-leaving exams in 2020 and used teacher estimates instead, although there were concerns that some teachers over-estimated students’ potential results and others under-estimated them. It has also cancelled the 2021 exams but is fine-tuning its approach.

The International Baccalaureate Organization also abandoned its northern hemisphere mid-year examinations in May 2020. Instead, trained examiners marked school assessments and teachers were asked to give a predicted grade.

Despite a three-month lockdown between July and October, Victoria never cancelled its exams and was able to hold them slightly later than usual. It also offered a misadventure provision for all students, an option many education officials think is the better model for NSW to follow.

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