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Why are new senior assessment and tertiary entrance systems being introduced?

The senior assessment system in its current form began in the early 1980s. The tertiary entrance system — commonly known as the OP system — was introduced in 1992.

In a report released in 2014, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) found that while existing arrangements had served Queensland students well and remained fair and reliable, they would not be sustainable over the longer term. ACER recommended changes to achieve greater rigour and simplicity.

There is also strong support among Queensland universities for eligible Year 12 students to be provided with an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) rather than an Overall Position (OP).

When will the new systems start?

The introduction of the new senior assessment and tertiary entrance system has been extended by a year. It will now start with students entering Year 11 in 2019 instead of 2018. These are the 2017 Year 9 students.

The first students to receive an ATAR instead of an OP will graduate from Year 12 in 2020.

The implementation timeframe was extended because some transition activities require more time to complete than originally planned. In particular, this means the redevelopment of senior syllabuses and the delivery of professional development for teachers.

What about the students who will finish before the changes are introduced?

Families with students who will be completing school under the current system can be assured that it remains fair and reliable. It is not compromised by the changes.

What will be different about senior assessment?

A system of 100% school-based assessment has operated in Queensland for more than 40 years.

In the new system, subject results will be based on a student’s achievement in three school-based assessments and one external assessment that is set and marked by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA).

This is fewer assessments than students currently complete — emphasising quality over quantity.

In the new system, the external assessment results will generally contribute 25% towards a student’s result in most subjects. In mathematics and science subjects, it will generally contribute 50%. The school-based assessments will not be scaled by the results of the external assessment when calculating a student’s subject result.

The new system will keep all the qualities inherent in school-based assessment while introducing greater consistency and the transparency of common assessments that are sat by students at all schools.

How will school-based assessment be strengthened?

New processes will be adopted to strengthen the quality and comparability of school-based assessment.

The QCAA will provide more specific parameters for developing school-based assessments in each subject. This will include the type of assessment, the conditions under which it should be administered and a common marking scheme.

All school-based assessments will be subject to endorsement by the QCAA before they are used in the classroom. This will ensure that all assessments provide sufficient opportunities for students to demonstrate syllabus requirements and to build teachers’ capacity to develop high-quality assessments.

The QCAA will select representative samples of completed student responses from each school. Trained assessors will then review a sample of student work to check the accuracy of grades awarded by teachers. Importantly, the QCAA will select the student work to be reviewed.

Why will external assessment generally contribute 50% to a student’s final subject result in mathematics and science subjects but 25% in most others?

Variation between subjects reflects the kinds of learning particular to those subjects and how achievement is most appropriately assessed. It would be inappropriate to assess all subjects in the same way.

Variation exists in other states, although few share exactly the same approach.

What will be different about tertiary entrance?

A student’s OP is calculated by comparing their results in Authority subjects studied at school with those of other OP-eligible students. Subject results are scaled using Queensland Core Skills (QCS) Test results. The final QCS Test will be held in 2019.

ATARs will also be calculated by comparing student results. But instead of the QCS Test there will be a process of inter-subject scaling.

Scaling is necessary so that student results in different types of subjects can be compared. The method of inter-subject scaling to be used by QTAC is still to be finalised.

What’s the difference between the OP and ATAR?

The ATAR is a finer grained rank order of students than the OP and is commonly used in other states and territories. It’s a number between 0.00 and 99.95 with increments of 0.05, whereas the OP consists of 25 bands. The Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre will be responsible for calculating students’ ATARs.

How will ATARs be calculated?

The Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) will be responsible for calculating students' ATARs.

QTAC will calculate ATARs based on either:

    a student’s best five General (currently Authority) subject results, as is currently the case for the OP system


    a student’s best results in a combination of four General subject results, plus an applied learning subject* result.

*Eligible applied learning subjects are: a QCAA Applied subject (currently Authority-registered subject or Subject Area Syllabus subject), or Certificate III, or Certificate IV, or Diploma, or Advanced diploma.

If a student is eligible for an ATAR in both categories, QTAC will use their highest ATAR.

In the new system of tertiary entrance, eligibility for an ATAR will require satisfactory completion of a QCAA English subject.

Satisfactory completion will require students to attain a result that is equivalent to a Sound Level of Achievement in one of five subjects — English, Essential English, Literature (new subject), English and Literature Extension (renamed), or English as an Additional Language.

While students must meet this standard to be eligible to receive an ATAR, it won’t be mandatory for a student’s English result to be included in the calculation of their ATAR.

How will student results be calculated and reported?

In each senior subject, numerical results from the three school-based assessments and the external assessment will be added together to calculate a final subject result. Following completion of the subject, students will be provided with their overall numerical result as well as a corresponding level of achievement.

What certificates will students receive in the new system at the end of Year 12?

The Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE) will remain as Queensland’s senior school qualification. Students who are eligible will continue to be awarded one at the end of Year 12. Students will also still receive a Senior Statement. It shows all studies and the results achieved that may contribute to the award of a QCE.

What preparations are being made for the new assessment system?

The QCAA is developing new senior assessment processes through:

  • redeveloping senior syllabuses that reflect a new assessment model and 21st century skills
  • trialling external assessments in a range of subjects with thousands of students at hundreds of schools
  • trialling processes for improving the quality and comparability of school-based assessment.

Teachers and students will be well supported in the transition to the new system. The education community in general has been an important driver of the changes.

How are the syllabuses changing?

The QCAA is reviewing all senior syllabuses to ensure they reflect the knowledge and skill sets required for further study and employment in the 21st century.

Some subjects will be renamed, others combined to better describe what the subjects are about, and some new ones will be developed. For example:

  • Prevocational Mathematics and Mathematics A, B and C will be replaced by the Australian Curriculum-aligned subjects of Essential Mathematics, General Mathematics, Mathematics Methods, and Specialist Mathematics
  • existing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) subjects will be redeveloped into a single digital technology and computational thinking subject called Digital Technology and a new subject — called Design — will incorporate valued learning from Graphics, Technology Studies, Home Economics and Information Technology Studies
  • a new subject of Psychology will be developed.

The new syllabuses will include greater detail on what students must know and be able to do. They will also contain common requirements for the development of school-based assessments and common marking guides to support teachers in making judgments about student learning.

How should students choose their subjects?

As in the current system, students should choose subjects according to their learning goals, and what they enjoy and are good at. They should pay close attention to the prerequisite requirements of the courses they are considering for tertiary study.

For all students intending to go on to tertiary study, achieving a satisfactory grade in English will be a prerequisite for receiving an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). However, it will not be mandatory for a student’s result in English to be included in the calculation of their ATAR.

Will students be subject to more assessment and high-stakes exams?

Currently, Year 12 students complete up to seven assessments in each subject. Under the new system, students will be expected to complete four pieces of assessment per subject. Three will be school-based assessments and one will be externally set and graded. All four assessments will count towards a student’s final result.

These will not be ‘one-shot’ external exams where an entire course of study comes down to performance over a few hours. External assessments are designed to give an extra layer of information about what students have learnt and can do in a subject. Queensland is introducing a progressive system that embodies the best of school-based and external assessment.

How should teaching and learning in composite Year 11 and 12 classes be managed under the new system?

A working group of principals and school leaders with experience in schools with composite classes is considering the issue and providing advice to schools in due course. The advice will include alternative models for managing composite classes.

The QCAA is also redeveloping an agreed group of syllabuses to support their delivery in a composite class setting.

How will Variable progression rate (VPR) procedures be applied for students who will be in senior under the current and new systems?

The QCAA is currently considering options for measuring the achievements of students who, for various reasons, will complete their senior studies over three years and consequently be taught and assessed under the current and new assessment systems.

How are teachers and students being prepared for the change?

Thousands of teachers and students are participating in trials and activities throughout the transition period.

A professional development program will support schools to implement the new and redeveloped syllabuses. It will commence in 2017.

Are teachers supportive of the changes?

Before reaching its decision, the government consulted extensively with education stakeholders and the wider community. The feedback indicated strong support for changes to the way students are assessed.

There was also strong support among Queensland universities for eligible Year 12 students to be provided with an ATAR rather than an OP.

Who will oversee the implementation strategy?

The Minister for Education chairs the Senior Secondary Assessment Taskforce with representatives from schooling sectors, parent groups, principal associations, teacher unions, the QCAA, QTAC and the tertiary sector.

The taskforce is advising the Minister on the shape of the new systems. Outcomes from each taskforce meeting are published in communiques on the Department of Education and Training website.

Last updated: 6 March 2018

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