Victoria's Year 12 students are worried about how special consideration will impact their grades

In Victoria, the state hit hardest by Australia's coronavirus crisis, Year 12 students will be given special consideration and their final grades adjusted accordingly. But while the government says it will make results fairer, some students are concerned it could do the opposite.

Year 12 student Philippa Bywaters is currently learning from home.

Year 12 student Philippa Bywaters is currently learning from home. Source: Supplied

From her bedroom in Bendigo, Philippa Bywaters is studying for her chemistry exams.

The Year 12 student hopes to get into biomedicine next year at university, a course that requires a high ATAR score.

And while she told SBS News she has “quite enjoyed” studying remotely amid Victoria's school closures, she is nervous that the pandemic might now affect her grades.

She takes little comfort in the government’s “ambiguous” announcement at the start of August to individually assess the impact of COVID-19 on each of the 50,000 Victorian Year 12 students.

“I think I am, like everyone else, quite confused how they're going to do it and it's definitely going to be a mammoth task whatever they end up doing,” the 17-year-old said.

"I understand the logic behind it but I'm not sure how it'll come to fruition."

Victorian students unsure how their final results will be calculated

It is a growing concern among many in the state's Year 12 cohort, who believe attempting to quantify the impact of the pandemic on them may lead to unfair results in the Australian Tertiary Admission Ranking (ATAR). 

Students will be assessed on a sliding scale of special consideration, taking into account how they might have been affected.

Students will also be expected to reach out to their teachers to let them know of any particular disadvantages.

Philippa's 'remote classroom' she studies in while Victoria is in lockdown.
Source: Supplied

Philippa said this could be problematic, as some students might be more willing than others to come forward.

“I'm wondering how they're going to factor that in if the student doesn't explicitly tell them. And in some situations students won't want to confide in their teacher,” she said.

“Obviously there could [also] be a scenario where students will be taking advantage. It is, at the end of the day, a big honesty game.”

Tim Whitehead, a Year 12 student from Croydon Hills in Melbourne’s east, agrees.

He said he doesn’t understand how they will be able to fairly assess students given how different everyone’s experience has been.

Tim Whitehead says the special consideration system "worries" some Year 12 students.
Source: Supplied

“It worries us that we're not going to be adequately compensated for the differences in the learning, and even within Victoria, with regional schools that could still go and metro schools that couldn’t,” the 18-year-old said.

"It's really unfair the inequalities that are going to happen between students."

The Victorian Department of Education and Training told SBS News "there are many factors that might be taken into account ... including, but not limited to, prolonged illness, disruption from coronavirus, mental health, and family hardship”.

But some educators have cast doubt on the plan.

Dr Ilana Finefter-Rosenbluh from Monash University’s Faculty of Education said there needs to be “clear policies in place” when it comes to assessing a student's wellbeing.

“Bottom line - when you assess and you take into consideration issues of wellbeing and other issues - what does that look like? All of these questions deserve an answer,” she said.

Dr Finefter-Rosenbluh said it is not only confusing for students but for teachers as well.

“I had a couple of conversations with teachers who are very confused, they don't know what they're expected to do exactly,” she said. 

Some students are also concerned results may vary depending on what school they attend.

Shantelle Kumar, 17, who attends a public school in Melbourne, is wary that private school students may have already had a leg up during the pandemic.

“I’m not sure how public and private schools are equal. I feel like private schools get higher ATARs and public schools get lower ATARs,” she said. 

Year 12 student Shantelle Kumar.
Source: Supplied

“I’m not sure how they’re going to even it out. Obviously private schools have more resources and more teachers than we do, especially during this time when it’s all online.”

But Education Minister Dan Tehan said he has faith authorities will find a fair and objective way to assess students.

“I'm very confident that we'll be able to get a very fair outcome for students this year as long as those adjustments are done in a very sensible way,” he told SBS News. 

Nationwide concern

Stress about final results isn't isolated to Victoria either.

A recent national survey of Year 12 students by tutoring service Cluey Learning found 80 per cent of school leavers have anxiety about their ATAR score and 62 per cent believe COVID-19 will have a negative impact on the outcome.

Cluey Learning CEO Dr Selina Samuels said students also have another concern – their parents. 

Students are also concerned results may vary depending on what school they attend.
Source: SBS

“About a third said that they felt their parents' anxiety was greater than theirs, so I think we can say parents are worried about their kids, and kids are worried about themselves,” she said.

While no other state will be adjusting grades like in Victoria, school leavers can apply for Educational Access Schemes (EAS) if they feel their results have been negatively affected.

Kim Paino from the University Admissions Centre in NSW said universities are also being more flexible about entry pathways.

“Universities are expanding the range of things that they'll look at from students. So the most common thing that has been noted is using Year 11 results,” she said.

“So we've already seen some universities making offers even this early.”

For now, Victorian students will continue learning remotely. There's hope they could return to the classroom for Term 4 in October.

Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Beyond Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Published 31 August 2020 at 4:20pm
By Amelia Dunn