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Students consider dropping out before HSC as Naplan requirements weigh heavily

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Nellie Joseph, 14, got into a private school in Sydney's east on a rare sporting scholarship and plays touch football, waterpolo and netball, but she suddenly doesn't see the point of staying in school until year 12. 

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New NAPLAN testing: Students react

A group of year 9 students at Cerdon College in Sydney's west were asked how the new NAPLAN tests, which they will be required to pass to receive their HSC, will affect both their current education and their prospects.

Having sat the year 9 NAPLAN test last week, Nellie is sure she won't get band eights, the new minimum requirement to qualify for a Higher School Certificate (HSC) in NSW. 

"It will make me think about dropping out if I don't get band eight," Nellie said. "I don't want to keep doing the online tests just to prove I'm good enough. I want to move on and keep working towards my HSC."

Her thoughts are echoed by Felix Katzen, 14, who is in year 9 at Forest High School.

"I think some people will drop out of school and go to TAFE if they don't get [band eight] because it would be easier to get a degree there than to complete NAPLAN again and again, while they're doing year 11 and the HSC on top of that," Felix said.

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"Putting more weight on what was supposed to be a self-assessment but has now become a year 9 HSC really makes us more stressed. It will bother me until I get the results in August or September."

The NSW Education Standards Authority's (NESA) new HSC minimum literacy and numeracy standard, which requires year 9 students to get a NAPLAN band eight in reading, writing and maths or pass equivalent online tests in the following years, came into effect this year and is modelled on a similar requirement that was introduced in Western Australia in 2013.

The first group of students impacted by the WA reforms completed year 12 last year, and the results reflect the likely effects of the changes in NSW.

The number of year 12 students who were awarded the WA Certificate of Education (WACE), the equivalent of the NSW HSC, fell significantly for the first time in at least six years.

About 91.9 per cent of students who completed the required number of year 11 and 12 courses were awarded the WACE in 2016, compared to 96.4 per cent of year 12 students in 2015, 96 per cent of students in 2014 and 96.9 per cent in 2013. 

Five per cent of year 12 students failed to make the minimum literacy and numeracy standard despite meeting all other requirements for the WACE. About one per cent missed out on the WACE because they didn't meet the academic requirements for their senior courses.

Sydney mother-of-two Alison Holland, whose 14-year-old son Louis is affected by the changes, says a similar trend in NSW will create a new class of students entering the workforce at a distinct disadvantage.

"The psychological and wellbeing impacts of this are huge, and it will produce a class system where some kids are going to go out in the world thinking they're not good enough," Ms Holland said. 

"And they can keep doing the online tests for five years after the HSC...they're out in the world and still being dogged by NAPLAN.

"I don't think the ramifications of this are entirely understood. I still don't think the average parent realises how alarming the statistics are."

About half of all year 9 students won't get a band eight in the NAPLAN tests according to NESA's own estimates, and students who fail to pass the online tests by the time they finish year 12 will be awarded a Record of School Achievement (ROSA) instead of an HSC.

A spokesman for NESA said: "Without a functional level of literacy and numeracy, students' capability to study for the HSC is undermined.

"A minimum standard will benefit all students...particularly those who leave school before completing year 12."

Although fewer students achieved their year 12 qualification in WA, the state's year 9 NAPLAN results improved significantly between 2012 and 2016, with average scores rising 12.7 points in reading and 12.9 points in numeracy. They fell by 3.1 points in writing.

Robyn Ewing, a professor of teacher education and the arts at the University of Sydney, says the new standard will lead to "more and more teachers teaching to the test".

"It's not what NAPLAN was originally designed to do," Professor Ewing said.

"I think some students may feel a loss of motivation if they feel they're not going to be able to get an HSC, they might look at those who will and feel a sense of failure."

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