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Call for minimum education standards -

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ELEANOR HALL: The push towards a national curriculum has been boosted with a leading education
expert calling for minimum standards for reading, writing and numeracy.

The head of the Australian Council for Educational Research, Geoff Masters, says most students can
complete 13 years of school and be awarded a senior certificate without having to prove their
proficiency in key learning areas.

But the head of the new National Curriculum Board says assessing the basic skills of senior
students isn't really necessary.

Emily Bourke has our report.

EMILY BOURKE: The call for minimum standards for reading, writing and numeracy has been made by the
head of the Australian Council for Educational Research, Geoff Masters.

GEOFF MASTERS: Are there some fundamental skills and understandings that we should expect all
students to develop as a result of 13 years of school? And if so, what are they? Should we require
every student for example to demonstrate at least a minimum level of competence, of achievement, in
areas like reading and writing and numeracy? What about other areas like scientific literacy,
civics and citizenship?

We know from our participation in the OECD's PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment)
study that something like 13 to 14 per cent of our 15-year-olds are below the OECD baseline, in
other words they are at risk of not having the readings skills, the numeracy skills that they will
require in adult life and in the workplace.

So my question is: should we be setting minimally acceptable standards? Should they be set
nationally if we were to have minimum standards? How would we assess whether students were meeting
those standards? And should we be issuing senior certificates unless students have met minimum
standards in some identified areas?

EMILY BOURKE: In the past the Council for Educational Research has been involved in setting
benchmarks and managing the testing programs in different states. While it doesn't currently manage
the national testing scheme for students in years three, five, seven and nine, it is involved in
some data analysis.

The council also sells off-the-shelf tests to primary and secondary schools for a range of
subjects.

Prof Geoff Masters says it doesn't really matter what subjects students study, but that they can
read and write proficiently and that they have some scientific literacy and an understanding of
civics, citizenship and information technology.

GEOFF MASTERS: We have tests of literacy and numeracy at years three, five, seven and nine. I'm
thinking more broadly than literacy and numeracy. I'm also thinking about scientific literacy. ICT
(information and communication technology) literacy perhaps, civics and citizenship.

And I'm not linking it specifically to year 12. I'm saying that at some point during their
schooling, students might be expected to demonstrate at least a minimal level of achievement in
these areas. It could be that they demonstrated that they've achieved the minimum expectation in
year 10 for example, or in year 11.

EMILY BOURKE: Earlier this year the Federal Government took the first steps towards setting up a
new National Curriculum Board which officially begins its work in the new year.

That board has the job of developing a single national curriculum for students from kindergarten to
year 12 by the end of 2010. It will start with English, maths, sciences and history.

Prof Barry McGaw is the chairman of the new board. He says there's little need for final year
students to undergo a national assessment of basic skills as part of that national curriculum.

BARRY MCGAW: When you come to the end of year 12, you could have a common curriculum without
necessarily having common exams because the different states at the moment have different
assessment practices.

They could in principle persist with those kinds of assessments even while using a curriculum
that's the same as that used in other states which do use external exams.

EMILY BOURKE: So you wouldn't necessarily need to have a national test, national assessments then?

BARRY MCGAW: In each of the curriculum areas at year 12, you would not necessarily have to.

I mean who knows what will finally happen, but in principle you could have a curriculum that's, for
example, the same chemistry curriculum in the six states and two territories at year 12 and
Queensland and the ACT which have an approach to assessment that does not involve external exams,
could continue to do that.

But by the time you get to year 11 and 12 the question isn't just do you have basic literacy and
numeracy skills. It's also a question of do you have the kind of deep knowledge of the subjects
that you're studying if that's what you're going to go on to university and use?

ELEANOR HALL: That's Prof Barry McGaw, the chairman of the National Curriculum Board ending Emily
Bourke's report.