Does your school offer both Standard and Advanced English courses for the HSC? How about ESL? Extension courses? If not – why not?
This is a question that has been debated over the past couple of days via email between members of the NSW English Teachers’ Association.
One member asked: Do you think it is wise to only offer the Advanced course to students? His school leaders have been advised that this will lead to higher ATAR scores for students at the school.
Here are some of the responses that were given via email in support of offering a diverse range of courses:
“The emotional pressure on students to learn (=compete and achieve) at an Advanced level was very detrimental in the schools I observed [that had decided to take away the option for Standard English]. Students’ self concept was very low for the bottom achievers in the Advanced stream, where in schools that also run Standard these kids might still perform lower, but they do so with the knowledge that they are in a different, less ‘academic’ course. Or, they find themselves at the top of the Standard course, and their self concept goes up. Offering Advanced-only also limits your capacity to differentiate learning for students, and it builds a distorted sense of entitlement and expectation among parents.”
“I have been discouraging some students who want to do Advanced. Last year when I arrived there seenmed to be some students who really should have taken Standard. Advanced can be soul destroying for them and can impede the progress of others.”
“I was also put under pressure [to increase] value-added – they argue that it is better for everyone to do Advanced because scaling boosts poor Advanced marks above good Standard marks and there may be an infinitesimally better uni ranking as a result. Whether this is actually the case or not is difficult to accurately gauge – there seems to be a lot of numerical flim-flam in the value-adding business. What is clear, however, is that students who struggle in Advanced and then withdraw from discussions and activities they feel are beyond them engage much more readily in Standard classes and find themselves enjoying English – heaven forfend!”
“I remember this type of pressure being applied at a previous school of mine – with the result of good Standard students being forced to do Advanced. That type of auditor-driven statistical analysis does not take into account the different kind of intellectual demands required to be a success in Advanced. At my current school, we have scaled back our Advanced classes because there were a number of students who were not suited to the contextual and researching demands of the Advanced syllabus – they were also not motivated readers”
Comments like these about student welfare were reinforced by teachers who had marked HSC English scripts and saw the outcome at the other end:
“Anyone who has marked Advanced will know there are many students out there who really should not have sat the course and would have been better off in Standard, where they would have had a much better opportunity to show what they knew and understood.”
“From the point of view of Advanced HSC marking, as many of you will have experienced, it is becoming more frequent to see that “poor child” who should have been advised to do Standard, often in the middle of a bundle of very competent students.”
Some teachers were in favour of pushing the Advanced course, and gave a mixture of pedagogical and statistical reasons for this:
“There is an ongoing debate about this in schools around mine. The pressure in schools is to achieve better than state mean and this can be easily achieved by encouraging students to do Standard rather than Advanced… I believe this is anti educational and think any student who is interested should have the opportunity to do the more interesting and challenging Advanced course. In terms of value added, this does us no favours [to push students into the Standard course]. Have a look at the difference in the curves for Advanced and Standard on the value added graph. Again I could easily make the actual course results look better by encouraging more students to do Standard and indeed have at times been pressured to do so. If you run the Advanced students against the overall English Value Added curve you get a different picture, however.”
“Our students do seem to get a strong sense of achievement from doing Advanced and actually engage well with texts which have not much relationship to their lives and experience. I agree that the Standard course is difficult since it is so language based and that is what students have trouble with…We don’t not offer Standard because it is too easy, but because our students can and do gain a great deal from the Advanced course and they value it. Or is it their parents? It just seems a pity that it is much more difficult to get very high marks in Standard than Advanced but it is historic. Remember why we brought in the common strand in the first place?”
Other teachers had arguments that spoke to the benefits of or need for the Standard course:
“What we have done is to present the challenges of the Advanced course to Year 10, outlining exactly the demands. We have also challenged Advanced students in Year 11 to consider seriously the demands of the course. This has meant many more “borderline” students have chosen Standard, either at the end of Year 10 or the end of the Preliminary course. As a result, we have had excellent Standard results from students who either deliberately chose to do Standard, or changed at the end of Preliminary when they struggled in the Advanced. The end result in those cases were very happy students and parents.”
“We certainly could not omit Standard from our curriculum, and fortunately, we are also able to maintain a more academic focus by running one advanced class. I hope that by doing that, we are meeting the diverse learning needs of the type of students who attend a school such as ours. I know this is not the same issue – but spare a thought for the large number of country schools who are struggling to offer courses and to do that, both Standard and Advanced are offered in the same room, sometimes with both 11 and 12 together as well. That is the only way their wide range of learning needs (for just a small number) can be met - either that, or Advanced is not offered at all.”
The role of school administrators in balancing the need for high results against student welfare and quality learning was also raised:
“Perhaps some school administrators need to be reminded of such determiners for course choice as “needs, interests and abilities of students”- not to mention their health and well-being. When there is a significant percentage of boarders these factors are particularly critical.”
“I think the whole debate is disgusting because no-one is talking about what we think students should know; i.e. education. Instead the whole debate seems to be about what puts the school in a better light statistically. Let’s worry about what our students should learn and where they are at, not what looks better for our school. How has this abominable shift in what teachers are thinking happened? Well we all know the answer to that: and the answer is not the National Curriculum.”
“It has been interesting to see two distinct problems emerge from this question and also dispiriting that in both cases it is all about perceived numerical and statistical success, with anti-educational ‘solutions’ imposed on English faculties from above.”
The debate itself was in fact surprising to some:
“Coming from an area of the state that is maybe too far in the bush, I have never realised that this would be an issue. I know that some schools, for very good reasons such as being selective, have none or very few Standard students, and that is just a given, but I would have thought that the majority of schools in the state would not fall into that category. I guess that might be blissful lack of knowledge or awareness on my part!”
I’d (we all!) be interested to hear how other schools and English faculties are approaching this question.
When I put the question out to Twitter this afternoon, this is what tweeple had to say:
“I think English should be an elective course. If they haven’t got it by year 10 why go further?”
“Really? [that not all states have mandatory English] so only NSW is dumb enough to think senior english is for all.”
“I think students should be allowed to go with what interests them – as long as they understand the possible implications 4 ATAR”
“NO! [to only offering Advanced]…particularly for gender focused classes, does the fact 45 marks are the same Area Of Study matter?”
“Imagine a male, studying Chem, bio, physics, a couple of Maths subjects, Standard English is perfect…”
“What about the kids doing 2 VET, ITP, PE, Industrial tech, do they need standard English?”
“Eng so much more than writing essays 4 exams. Lets push boundaries so studs fall in love with English”
“I know pressure of getting good results! Would like to think we can make results gr8 via love of learning. Combine both 4 synergy”
How do you decide what HSC Engish courses to run and who gets to do them??