We recently had an assembly at my school to celebrate the students who received an ATAR over 90 in the HSC last year. There was a brief introduction from the Principal, a guest speaker who was surprisingly entertaining and in-depth about having respect for yourself by demonstrating respect for others, a speech from an all-rounder from the class of 2014 and a speech from the student who achieved the highest ATAR in 2014. The students’ speeches consistently referred to balance but also a commitment to study. The Head of Curriculum spoke about “one more mark”.
I am currently finishing my Masters in Education with a plan in place to do a literature review as one of my last subjects in preparation for a Masters of Research as a lead-in to a PhD. A long road is marked ahead. For my PhD I plan to examine the increasing emphasis on marks as the main goal instead of marks being a mere measure of learning. Sometimes the learning component of 13 years of formal school education is lost in a single number. Too many times I ask students what they want to do when they leave school and they have no idea. When I ask what they want to achieve at school they say a good mark in the HSC. I ask why and more often than not it is to please their parents. I ask what interests them in what they’re learning, and they say not much, they are just aiming for good marks. How sad is that?
The “one more mark” speech implored students to ask their teachers what they could do for just one more mark. You see, data analysis of the school’s HSC results revealed numerous 88s and 89s in individual subjects so the aim is to push students into Band 6 (90+) because we have more Band 5s than the average school, shouldn’t it be easy to push them into Band 6 with a one more mark philosophy? I think not. I think the underlying problem is more associated with a culture of teaching to the test and spoon-feeding, of memorising and regurgitating, not just in my school but across many, many schools. Band 6 is about demonstrating high-order thinking skills, critical thinking, problem solving and the like. Remembering one more fact will not push an 89 to a 90.
Now as much as I am an advocate for learning to be a focus over the memorising for tests, part of my job is preparing students for the HSC and its testing regime. In Society and Culture students need to know, understand and apply some core concepts. We drill the eleven main definitions underlying just about everything studied in Society and Culture. My Year 11s recently sat their first test of these eleven definitions. One student perfectly provided the first six but then left the remaining five blank. She didn’t want to even try to use words from her own understanding, she only wanted to give the precise words of the syllabus. Again, how sad is that?
This weekend I marked a practice HSC Business Studies extended response I had given as holiday work. They were a long way below the standard I expect from these students. I believe the majority didn’t do them over the holidays but the night before they submitted it. The question was How can different sources of funds help a business achieve its financial objectives? Both the sources of funds and financial objectives listed in the syllabus were handed out when the question was issued at the end of last year but many students failed to refer to them, probably because they just took the question from the ediary entry. Most of those who did use these syllabus terms, did not link them to show how different sources of funds help businesses to achieve financial objectives but merely provided textbook definitions of each term and tacked on introductions and conclusions. Needless to say, it was a disappointing marking process. However, despite my reservations about the “one more mark” speech I am going to hand these responses back with marks and an expectation of how many more marks they are to achieve in their second attempt. I feel like I’m going against my principles but that it could be a good way for them to see that their poor attempt at the only bit of homework I set over seven or so weeks of the holidays just isn’t good enough. The increase of marks expected have been determined by my gut instinct based on having spent a year with these students and thus knowing what they can achieve. Some students are being asked for just two more marks, some ten and a whole range in between. Wish me luck!