Year 12 exams must go ahead - The Centre for Independent Studies
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Year 12 exams must go ahead

Keep calm and carry on. That should be the clear, consistent message we give Year 12 students at the moment.

And yet education Ministers met earlier this week to discuss the plight of Year 12s amid calls to cancel the ATAR and end-of-year exams, apparently in order to reduce student stress caused by coronavirus developments — as though radically overhauling how students are admitted into universities within one year wouldn’t lead to even more anxiety for Year 12s.

And it is incredibly naïve to think the practical problems of an entirely new university admissions system could magically be resolved between now and the end of 2020.

One proposal is to replace the ATAR with a ‘learner portfolio’ based on extra-curricular activities and subjective assessments.

But the ‘innovative’ thought-bubble alternatives to the ATAR are especially unfair for high-achieving disadvantaged students. Advantaged students tend to have more extra-curricular opportunities and professional networks, so would gain an unfair benefit in competing for places in high-demand university courses. Just imagine the differences in CVs and ‘learner portfolios’ between students from wealthy inner-city suburbs areas and those in low-socioeconomic areas.

Exams may not be enjoyable for students, but they are the great equaliser in education. They assess and rank each student’s academic ability in each subject in the same way at the same time, with transparent and detailed methodology.

In any case, it would be unfair to change the rules for Year 12s at this late stage. After all their hard work in Year 11 and up until now, students deserve to receive a meaningful Year 12 certificate — based on rigorous exams rather than vague superficial indicators — at the end of this year.

Sure, the current situation with many students not attending school makes it harder to prepare, particularly for disadvantaged students who don’t have access to effective learning support online or at home. A simple solution to this is to encourage secondary schools to remain open with normal classes for just their Year 12 students, if they don’t have adequate online classes in place.

Teachers are still working hard to ensure their students are prepared anyway. It’s been inspiring to see teachers so quickly get their heads around less-than-ideal education technology to ensure they can continue teaching and answering student questions.

Thankfully, education Ministers remain adamant that students will receive ATAR scores this year and it appears Year 12 exams will go ahead (but might just be delayed by a month or two). They shouldn’t backdown. Whatever other harm the coronavirus will do to Australia, we should insist it won’t stop Year 12 students from getting the rigorous qualification they need for future life.