Sept. 3, 2021

isPodcast - Episode Five

isPodcast - Episode Five

Shane Green interviews Stephen Gniel, Chief Executive Officer at Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority.


 

VCAA website.

VCAA page for schools and educators:

VCAA COVID-19 general information

ISV COVID 19 information for schools

Transcript

 

Note: isPodcast is produced for listening and is designed to be heard. We encourage you to listen to the audio, as it includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page. While every care is taken, our transcripts may contain errors.

Shane Green: 
Welcome to this special edition of isPodcast, ISV’s shows for schools and the wider community. I'm Shane Green. We're delighted to be joined today by Stephen Gniel, the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. For those who don't know, it's the body set up by the Victorian Government to look after everything about curriculum and assessment. We're here to talk to Stephen about two of those areas and the news of the moment: the VCE and NAPLAN.  
Now 2020 was described as the year like no other for our VCE students, having to deal with remote learning because of lockdowns, changes to exam schedules and results timings, as well as missing out on the rites of passage that are all part of Year 12. We're optimistic that 2020 would be brighter, but as we've seen with the spread of the Delta variant, lockdowns and remote learning are back. So, in the midst of lockdown number six, there's been plenty of uncertainty about what the rest of the VCE year will look like. Stephen, thanks for joining us and welcome to isPodcast. 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Thanks Shane. It's great to be here. 
 
Shane Green: 
As you well know, there's understandable anxiety about the future of the VCE this year among students, parents, and educators. These are very challenging times. 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Yeah, look they are, and they're challenging for everyone and a shout out to the teachers and obviously the school leaders that are joining the podcast, but also for the students and parents and their families. And we can really understand this anxiety, but also we want to reassure people that the VCAA will continue to do all it can to make sure our students get through this year and get their results and ATARs before the end of the year. Just like we did last year in challenging times. 
 
Shane Green: 
Well, let's get to some of the key points about the VCE this year, Stephen. First let's talk about the General achievement test, the GAT. Now we have a rescheduled date and there will be extra precautions to keep everyone safe. 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Yeah, that's right. The GAT will now take place on the 5th of October. That's the first Tuesday back for most schools of Term Four and it will be held on that date – and that's really great advice for everyone to have some level of certainty there – with the appropriate health controls in place. And that was the same as for last year, we had to have guidelines for schools in administering the GAT in addition to what we usually provide. And we'll be doing that again this year. 
 
Shane Green: 
We're also seeing Year 12 students coming back onto campus for some essential assessments and practical classes. How has this been managed to ensure its COVID safe? 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Yeah. Look, the acting Victorian Chief Health Officer approved the conduct of that restricted list of permitted essential assessments starting Monday this week, which is really great news for some of those students, particularly those that have their performance exams starting on the 4th of October, the first day back of Term Four. But it is restricted strictly to those participating in a session in those essential assessments or preparation for their exams – just for those studies where they can't be conducted remotely. 
 
Shane Green: 
Now the CD or the Consideration of Educational Disadvantage was a very important process in assessing VCE students last year. How will it support VCE students in 2021? 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
It was a really important part of our processes in 2020. And this year, like everyone, I think we were hoping for a more normal year. That hasn't panned out as we had imagined, and I think hoped as a community, but again, this year we'll be implementing the Consideration of Educational Disadvantage, the CED.  
 
It's a process that accounts for the disruption to student learning caused by the pandemic and it makes sure that final results are fair and valid for all students.  
 
Importantly, it applies to every student completing, scored, one or more VCE / Vet Unit 3 – 4 sequences, in 2021. And that includes year 11 and 10 students that might be undertaking those subjects as well, or those studies.  
 
It considers how students have been affected by circumstances that include school closures, direct impact on the health of a student, students dealing with substantial extra family responsibilities, ongoing issues with remote learning and mental health challenges. 
 
And the aim of all of this is to restore students' results to where they would have been without these disruptions that have occurred throughout this year. And students final scores on examinations, which was a guarantee that students wanted from me last year, and I give that guarantee again, is that their final score on their examinations will be equal to or higher than their achieved scores. 
 
Shane Green: 
Now, the number of days in lockdown has been different for regional versus metropolitan schools. Will there be an automatic accounting for this, Stephen? 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
The CED process involves collecting information from students in schools and validating the evidence and moderating those scores. And it's really important that people are clear that this is about the impact on performance for each of the individual students in each of their subject areas. So, an automatic adjustment is not appropriate. We have some students that have been much harder hit by the same lockdowns that might've occurred or school closures. So, it is very important that this is completed at the individual student level.  
 
And so, we do have those student statements for students to be able to provide to their school, to alert their teachers of that disadvantage that they've experienced. And then, we do ask schools to provide the normal information, so their scores for their school-based assessment, as well as their indicative grades that they give us every year, but also to provide expected scores. 
 
What they see would be the students' individual expected level of achievement, had it not been for the impact associated with the pandemic, and also an expected grade in the same way. So, what would they have achieved had they not been impacted.  
 
So, as part of this process, schools will again provide students with that opportunity to alert their teachers to any significant disadvantage and provide that through those students' statements. And that goes together with what schools already know about these students.  
 
So, the specific question around the metro versus regional impacts is the CED set up to account for that. It did that last year where we had some individual schools that were much harder hit than others. So the unique circumstances of schools is taken into account. But what we asked teachers to do is tell us what the impact was on the performance of individual students in graded assessments that might've been impacted by any of those circumstances. 
 
Shane Green: 
Stephen, we know that the parents are keen for VCE students to return to face-to-face learning. Now at the time of this interview, can you explain what you're working towards? 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Yeah. I can. We work alongside the Department of Education and the Department of Health based on this advice from the Victorian Chief Health Officer about the return of students to face-to-face learning. And we did that with really carving out that exception for students in the performing arts from the start of this week. And we'll continue to do that – obviously based on the case numbers and the epidemiology of the time to get more of these kids back. I think all of us want students back as soon as we can. And we'll work towards that with those partners. 
 
Shane Green: 
Now on the question of vaccines, the Victorian Government wants VCE students to get vaccinated before written exams begin on the 4th of October. What's been done to make that happen? 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Yeah. So actually, as you know, we do have announcements about a priority for those students and that there will be a vaccination booking blitz dedicated for final year school students, their teachers, and for VCE exam supervisors and assessors. And that blitz will begin on the 7th of September and continue until the 17th, and during the blitz, final year students, their teachers and VCE exam supervisors and assessors will have access to booking hotline priority time slots to attend their vaccination appointments at a vaccination centre.  
 
So, this is really great news for our final year students and their teachers. And we'd encourage everyone to get on board with that, to take access through that blitz, to get vaccinated as soon as they can. And we have our performance and oral exams starting on the 4th of October, the GAT on the 5th. Then of course, we have our written examinations that start on the 27th of October and run through until the 17th. 
 
Shane Green: 
Stephen, do you have any general advice for VCE students and their parents? 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Yeah. To do their best, to keep going. I mean, they've shown incredible resilience and great ingenuity, innovation about both students and teachers of how to keep going in these really challenging times.  
 
You know, the other message is to have some downtime, eat well, get out, get some exercise where you can, look after your health and wellbeing as well as your study. And we want, really send that message that we're doing everything we can and we'll do everything we can to make sure we're supporting these students the entire way. That's our VCE and our VCAL students. And really making sure that their focus is on completing their schoolwork and preparing for their exams and doing the best that they can. 
 
Shane Green: 
Now let's turn to the NAPLAN results. This was a really good news story for Victorian students. What were the highlights? 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Yeah, great news. And again, look really a shout out to the students, the teachers, and also families, probably more so than ever, around maintaining the really fantastic results that our students in Victoria always achieve. But this year, probably like a year of no other, and really pleasing results.  
 
We've seen that our Year Nine students top the nation in spelling, our Year Three students were top of the class in reading, numeracy, and grammar and punctuation. And Year Five were leading the nation in reading, numeracy, writing, and grammar and punctuation as well. So, we've got those Year Seven students who improved in reading, writing, and spelling compared to 2019, the last assessments, and achieved the highest scores of any jurisdictions for the skills of reading and numeracy. So as a package, a really fantastic result for Victoria. 
 
Shane Green: 
Of course, there wasn't a NAPLAN last year because of COVID. And there's been lots of long periods of remote learning. Were people expecting to see a negative impact because of that? 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
We did see some of that in the media, around some of the predictions that people have made. Really importantly, ACARA itself have said that there isn't any evidence of negative impact across the country. And that includes Victoria. We haven't seen that. So, this year's NAPLAN assessment data was really important and we have to continue to examine the impact of the pandemic, including that effectiveness, the teaching and learning and the strategies and supports that we put in place. But it's a great news story. And people should be really proud of those results. 
 
Shane Green: 
Stephen, there's also been a decision this year to recognise excellence and achievement for our Year Nines. 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Yeah, that's right. The Minister announced a couple of years ago now that we would have Year Nine achievement awards for NAPLAN and for the first time this year, the learning growth of Victorian students in Year Nine and their success will be recognised with those new Certificates of Achievement.  
 
And the certificates have been awarded to almost 19,000 Year Nine students across Victoria. And that's in both those students who have achieved excellence in the top band of either reading or numeracy, as well as those students that have improved in terms of growth by two bands or more in literacy and numeracy.  
 
So, really great results there as well. And we do want to see that the introduction of these certificates really reinforces the importance of student learning gain as well as the level of learning achieved. So, the cancellation of last year's NAPLAN due to the coronavirus pandemic delayed the introduction of the certificates, but it's really great to have those out there in 2021. 
 
Shane Green: 
Stephen, thanks so much for those insights. I know you share the latest updates with schools as does ISV. And in addition, of course, people can visit the VCAA website. 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Yeah, that's correct. And look, this is a real partnership and we really appreciate ISV's support around getting some of these messages out and making sure we're hearing back from teachers and principals around further things that we can do to support.  
 
And that latest advice can be found on the COVID-19 pages of the VCAA website and particularly the pages for schools and educators. And we regularly update that. So I'd encourage people to keep tuning into that part of our communication as well. 
 
Shane Green: 
Stephen, thanks for joining us on isPodcast. 
 
Stephen Gniel: 
Great. Thanks Shane.