Boost for Victorian students, but questions remain over exam safety

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It's been a particularly challenging year for Victorian VCE students like Siena Carrideo (photo: supplied; background image by Ryan McGilchrist CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s a win for the class of 2020 – each Victorian year 12 student will be individually assessed for VCE scores and ATAR rankings.

Federal education minister, James Merlino, announced on August 7th that all students will be given special consideration, after an uncertain year.

In a non-pandemic year, certain students are assessed for special consideration on a case-by-case basis, but in 2020 this will apply to every student.

But teachers and students have expressed concerns that the safety of supervisors, Year 12s, and their families seems to have been callously neglected by the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA).

These range from students being expected to concentrate on exams while wearing a mask, or sitting in an exam hall with fellow students while abiding by the 1.5m social distancing rule, along with other restrictions.

Students say they’ll become more stressed, wondering if sitting the exam could infect them.

VCAA are yet to make a statement on just how exams will take place, under restrictions.

Genazzano student Siena Carrideo is not bothered with the exam dates changing, but says she wants consistency in routine and confirmation that exams will go ahead.

“I think this provides us with more time to study effectively and consolidate our learning, thus providing us with the best opportunity to give VCE our best go,” she says.

“My school has offered support during this time especially throughout online learning…offering various support systems such as access to the school’s performance psychologists to ensure we are OK mentally and have someone to talk to.”

Victoria’s Year 12 students have had a year like no other – first school as normal, then social distancing, then remote learning then returning to the classroom followed by compulsory masks and now back to remote learning as Melbourne battles a stubborn second wave by going into lockdown 2.0.

“This year has been particularly challenging due to the unprecedented time of COVID, which has made me feel a bit more nervous than expected for studying year 12 this year as it has been a much more demanding on myself,” Ms Carrideo says.

With exams approaching and stage four restrictions still in place, the uncertainty over how students will complete exams under lockdown is worrying.

“It has been a bit troublesome constantly moving between classes on campus and classes online,” Ms Carrideo says.

“This has been particularly disturbing to the normal routine of studying at school and having face to face contact with teachers, to then have to move all our schoolbooks and supplies from school to home and communicate through a screen.”

The General Achievement Test (GAT) has been postponed for the second time.

Originally scheduled for the end of June, it was moved to September due to the first lockdown.

Now with stage four restrictions, the GAT has been moved to early October.

Under the “extraordinary changes”, the government will consider school closures and long absences as contributing factors to VCE students’ difficult year.

“We’ll look at things, for example, such as significant increase in family responsibilities as a result of COVID-19, and we’ll of course consider the mental health and wellbeing of students during this period,” Mr Merlino said.

He added the changes would help students go into their VCE exams, which start in early November, with confidence “knowing they will not be disadvantaged as a result of COVID-19”.

“This is a way that we can give every student and every parent of a VCE student the comfort and the confidence that their student will receive their final scores that take into account their individual circumstances…It puts them on a level playing field with every student across the state,” the minister said.

Meanwhile students like Ms Carrideo say they’ve been advised by teachers to continue studying and give it their all, despite the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

“I am still aiming for the same result I thought I would get at the beginning of the year, however my expectations of myself have slightly altered due to these circumstances and inability to perform as if it was a normal school year,” Ms Carrideo said.