Sydney Catholic schools take gifted education to next level

Newman hopefuls (left to right) Fernando Leleai Inu-Mainuu, Jocelyn Lioe, Grace Nguyen and Kevin Lam sat the first-ever Newman Selective Higher Ability Assessment on 12 September.

Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) pioneered its first-ever selective entrance test with 131 students sitting the inaugural Newman Selective Higher Ability Assessment today.

In a bid to offer their highly able students entrance into a selective gifted and talented stream in high school, SCS developed a selection test with the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

The assessment focused on four key skill areas including abstract, verbal and quantitative reasoning, as well as written expression.

Year 6 students who sat the test hope to gain entry in to the Newman Selective Gifted Education Program next year at one of three secondary pilot schools – All Saints Catholic College Liverpool, De La Salle Catholic College Caringbah and Our Lady of Mercy College Burraneer.

It’s an exhilarating experience to go through the Newman program.

– Taj Beesley

Unlike admission into the state’s selective schools, the test results form only part of the selection process. Samples of the students’ work and data including test results from their primary schools will also form part of the selection portfolio.

School principals will also make recommendations and parents will have the opportunity to submit evidence of their child’s giftedness.

Penina Barry, Newman Selective Expansion Project Education Officer, said that parent input in the selection process was the biggest difference between SCS and the state school’s selective entrance process.

“The SCS entrance process gives parents the opportunity to provide additional evidence beyond student test scores to advocate for their child’s application,” she said.

“Parents have the opportunity to formally identify if their child should be nominated for a Newman class on a number of measures when they’re in Year 6, and are given that opportunity informally throughout their child’s secondary schooling.

“Many students who are not currently enrolled in the Newman Selective Gifted Education program can still apply,” she added.

St Joseph Catholic Primary Moorebank student Grace Nguyen sits the SCS Newman Selective Higher Ability Assessment.

Dr Dan White, Executive Director of Sydney Catholic Schools, said he hoped the selective program would roll out to all 38 Catholic secondary schools in the Sydney Catholic school system over coming years.

“It’s about ensuring gifted students who attend their local Catholic school are given the opportunity to reach their potential,” he said.

“We want to make sure that children within our comprehensive system of Catholic schools have access to the program no matter where they live.”

Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Primary students Taj Beesley and Isabelle De Gioia, both 12, were among the 65 students to sit the test at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic College (OLMC) Burraneer – one of two test venues on the day.

Taj is currently in Mathematics and Coding Newman extension opportunities at school. He was confident of the assessment, including the parts that focused on logical thinking.

“It was harder than I thought, but some questions were easy,” Taj said. “My favourite part was probably the logical thinking, because that’s what I’m best at.

“It’s an exhilarating experience to go through the Newman program. It gives you an extensive idea of what subjects are about. Instead of just going into the basics, it’s very thorough about those subjects.”

Isabelle said the written comprehension task included writing about an image of a tap. She is currently in Writing, Maths, Literature and Philosophy Newman classes at school and is hopeful of a place at OLMC.

“I found it quite challenging but I enjoyed it,” she said of the assessment. “I feel like Newman would be really good for me in high school because I like to challenge myself outside of the classroom.”

At All Saints’ Catholic College Liverpool another 66 students sat the tests.

Most were from four feeder Catholic primary schools – All Saints’ Liverpool, St Joseph’s Moorebank, St Francis Xavier Lurnea, and St Christopher’s Holsworthy.

There were also 40 students from local government schools who sat the test, 17 at the Liverpool venue. These students are all enrolled to start at All Saints Catholic College Liverpool in 2018.

Joanna Liyanaarachch, 11, from Liverpool Public School, said that her mum encouraged her to sit the entrance test because she found some subjects “too easy”.

“I’m really hoping to get selected as I want to do something that’s challenging for me,” Joanna said. “I want to be a surgeon. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor in an emergency theatre. My favourite TV show is ‘Operation Out’.”

St Joseph Catholic Primary Moorebank’s Grace Nguyen, 11, said the Maths and English part was “pretty easy but some of the questions in the General Ability section were similar … it was a mixed variety.”

Students had 45 minutes to complete each section of the four-part test but none said that they ran out of time.

Next year, up to 30 places will be available in Newman classes at each pilot school. Within each class, students will be extended and supported across all subject areas within a differentiated curriculum.

Newman Facilitator at All Saints, Angela Porro, said that each school would have dedicated teachers in each subject area qualified in Gifted Education training.

“The other beauty of this pilot is that we can offer new opportunities to students including mentoring programs with industry professionals like statisticians, scientists and published authors, as well as support through GERRIC workshops.”

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