More than 11,000 year 9 students are trialling new online literacy and numeracy tests which they must pass in order to qualify for their HSC but teachers and academics warn that the exams could put schools under pressure to "hothouse" students.
Students from 165 public, private and Catholic schools have been doing the trial tests over the past week and more will sit the exams this week as the state government prepares to roll out the online tests for about 70 per cent of year 9 students.
This is the first year that the state government's new minimum literacy and numeracy standard required year 9 students to achieve at least a NAPLAN band 8 in three areas - reading, writing and numeracy - or they will have to pass the online test in the following years to qualify for their HSC.
The government says the minimum standard is set at a level of literacy and numeracy needed for everyday tasks such as following operating instructions in equipment manuals, interpreting graphs and charts as well as writing job applications and preparing invoices.
Preliminary results from NAPLAN, released in August, show NSW achieved some of its best results since the national tests began in 2008 but despite the boost in year 9 results, most students will still have to sit the online test in one area to qualify for their HSC in 2020.
The education minister, Rob Stokes, has said the new minimum standard ensured young people were "well prepared to achieve their potential in learning and life after school" while many schools are urging students and parents not to panic about the new requirements.
But in a newsletter late last term, the principal of the Shire Christian School, an independent school in Sydney's south, said he had "serious misgivings over the state government's decision to use year 9 NAPLAN results as a qualifying exam or the HSC".
The school's principal, Brett Hartley, wrote that he knew of numerous schools that did "specific NAPLAN test coaching exercises" in the lead-up to the tests.
"Our school has not, and will not, hothouse students prior to the annual NAPLAN tests because it produces dishonest results," Mr Hartley wrote.
"Turning the year 9 NAPLAN results into a qualifying exam places more pressure on schools to hothouse students so that they won't be required to sit future literacy and numeracy tests in order to be eligible to sit the HSC."
English education academics from the University of Technology Sydney, Sydney and Macquarie universities recently surveyed teachers about NAPLAN and the new requirement to pre-qualify for the HSC.
Don Carter, a senior lecturer in English education at UTS, said the results showed that many teachers felt that NAPLAN was a distraction from the curriculum and they did not support the linking of NAPLAN results to the HSC.
Dr Carter said responses from the survey of more than 170 teachers found that 79 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the introduction of the "pre-qualification" was beneficial to students.
One response said: "The apparent advantage of helping students reach a minimum literacy standard are completely outweighed by the awful stress and labelling of students who don't pass the test. These poor students will see themselves as failures from the age of 13 or 14."
Another said: "I do not believe that performance at a Yr 9 level in any way represents what a student may be capable of at a later age. Conceptual thinking/understanding is vastly different as a student matures."
Dr Carter said many students would be placed under unnecessary stress.
"I have heard from schools that students in year 7 are starting to worry already about the year 9 requirement," Dr Carter said.
A spokeswoman for the NSW Education Standards Authority said all NSW schools were invited to participate in the trial.
"The types of questions asked in the trial and the online experience are indicative of the minimum standard tests to be available from next year," she said.