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VCAA special provision review

In 2014, the VCAA commenced a review of its current policy and administrative procedures associated with administering Special Provision within School-based Assessment and VCE external assessments with a particular focus on the Special Examination Arrangements (SEAs) and the Derived Examination Score (DES) processes.

The purpose of the review was to:

  • ensure special provision policies are in line with relevant Federal and State legislation
  • address and/or respond to the concerns of key stakeholder groups
  • develop a better process for ensuring consistency across provisions provided for school-based assessments and VCE external assessments
  • explore the possibility of approving provisions prior to the commencement of a student’s VCE or VCAL program.

2014 recommendations

Expansion and earlier engagement

Recommendation 1
Expand the VCAA Special Provision framework to cover Years 7-12 inclusive, on both a formal and advisory level.

Recommendation 2
Introduce a flexible and more accessible Special Provision platform which encourages and caters for early engagement with the VCAA allowing for discussion and potentially formalisation of appropriate ongoing provisions for students with special needs/circumstances.

Evidence requirements and provisions

Recommendation 3
Through regular and ongoing consultation with relevant stakeholders, ensure there is consensus on:

  • the most appropriate evidence requirements for each condition/circumstance with greater emphasis placed on an existing diagnosis and any history of accommodations currently employed by the school
  • the most appropriate provisions available for each condition/circumstance.

Use of technology

Recommendation 4
Consult with assistive technology experts to explore the use of assistive technologies in both classroom learning and assessment, in particular VCE external assessments.

Recommendation 5
Move towards developing online solutions to deliver the VCAA’s application based Special Provision processes.


Recommendation 6
Develop and deliver an enhanced range of training and professional development options to educate, inform and engage with stakeholders about the VCAA Special Provision Policy and procedures.


Recommendation 7
Develop a range of flexible and interactive communication strategies which are accessible and address the needs of stakeholders.

Ongoing consultation

Recommendation 8
Establish regular and ongoing consultation processes with relevant stakeholders to address issues, both short and long term, within the Special Provision environment.

In 2017, the VCAA completed a comprehensive review of its policy and procedures relating to Specific Learning Disorders and Mental Health conditions.

Advisory Groups in each category proposed a range of recommendations that were strongly supported by stakeholders and endorsed by the VCAA Board.

The recommendations have subsequently been incorporated into the VCAA Special Provision Policy and come into effect from the commencement of the 2018 academic year.

2017 recommendations

Mental Health Advisory Group recommendations

Operational definition

Recommendation 1
A mental health condition is a disorder or illness that affects a student’s thought processes, judgment, perception of reality, or emotional and social wellbeing.
The symptoms significantly impact on a student’s cognitive functioning.
The current presenting symptoms must be supported by evidence from a range of sources including a student’s history, school observations and appropriate health professionals.

Professional evidence

Recommendation 2
The health professional providing supporting evidence:

  • Must be the student’s primary treating health professional and working within a relevant area of mental health as defined by the regulating body; and
  • Will have made a comprehensive assessment of the student, seen the student recently, and may have established a treatment program for the student. (The requirement for a treatment plan may not be considered necessary in all cases); and
  • Must be independent from the student (e.g. not related to the student). Evidence provided by a school based health professional is acceptable.
    • Clinical assessments, diagnosis (if available), date of diagnosis
    • Consultation history, presenting symptoms
    • Treatment periods and plans (if available)
    • Description of severity; the impact of the student’s mental health condition on learning and assessment.

School-based evidence

Recommendation 4
The VCAA also ask schools to respond to similarly targeted questions, in line with those asked of the health professionals, focusing on relevant information such as:

  • History of student’s mental health condition, from the school’s perspective
  • Observed difficulties in the classroom and during assessments
  • Changes in student’s condition over time
  • History of any provisions approved at school level
  • How the provisions have assisted the student

Appropriate special provisions

Recommendation 5
Most appropriate provisions for students with mental health conditions:

  • Timed rest breaks is the most appropriate provision for students with a mental health condition (in most circumstances)
  • The current default rest break time of 10 minutes per hour of examination time should be retained.
  • Other provisions may be approved where the supporting evidence demonstrates a need for the provision via symptoms and/or diagnosis. These provisions include:
    • Permission to leave the examination room;
    • Permission to sit examination in a separate room e.g., as a consequence of a diagnosed social anxiety disorder;
    • Permission to take medication into the examination room; and
    • Permission to take untimed rest breaks e.g., extreme cases where timed breaks are insufficient.    
    • The results of any psychological testing previously administered
    • Health professional statement outlining the symptoms and justifying why extra working time is required
    • Evidence of student’s decline in performance from the school providing student results or essays pre-and post the onset of the mental health condition(s)
    • School observations and history of other provisions (namely rest breaks) being trialed unsuccessfully.

Early application/engagement with the VCAA

Recommendation 7
Recommend early application/engagement process:

  • In the years prior to enrolment in VCE units 3 and 4, schools should be encouraged to engage with the VCAA to discuss appropriate special provisions for students with mental health conditions with the proviso the VCAA may need to seek updated timely information (where deemed necessary) closer to when the student commences VCE units 3 and 4.
  • In the year immediately preceding enrolment in VCE units 3 and 4, schools will be able to submit formal applications for Special Examination Arrangements for students with a mental health condition.

Specific Learning Disorder Advisory Group recommendations

Operational definition

Recommendation 1
VCAA adopt the following operational definition for a ‘Specific Learning Disorder’:
Specific Learning Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a biological origin. Students with this disorder possess specific cognitive processing deficits that cause difficulties with learning and using academic skills and manifest in persistent problems with one or more of the following:

  • Inaccurate or slow and effortful word reading
  • Understanding the meaning of what is read
  • Spelling
  • Written expression
  • Mastering number sense, number facts or calculations
  • Mathematical reasoning.

Professional evidence

Recommendation 2
An IQ/cognitive assessment administered by an appropriately qualified professional registered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA):

  • Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC V or WISC IV)
  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS V or WAIS IV)
  • Woodcock Johnson (WJIV or WJIII)
  • Stanford Binet V or IV (if test was administered in 2017 or earlier)

The IQ/cognitive assessment must be submitted with the detailed report completed by the professional. The report must include the full-scale IQ (where calculated), subtest and scaled scores along with an overall assessment and interpretation of results.

Recommendation 3
IQ/cognitive assessment administered in Grade 6 or during the student’s secondary school years.
Once an IQ/cognitive assessment has been supplied, a new assessment will not be required during the remainder of a student’s secondary schooling.

School evidence and history of provisions

Recommendation 4
Schools will be required to respond to a set of targeted questions focusing on relevant information such as:

  • History of student’s SLD including interventions put in place by the school
  • Student difficulties observed, in classroom learning and school-based assessments, and for how long have these difficulties been present
  • Reasons (including following recommendation from professional evidence) for making interventions and or approving special provisions
  • Detailing the special provisions approved and how these have assisted the student

Educational assessments – impairment in reading

Recommendation 5
The Progressive Achievement Test in Reading Comprehension (PAT-R) remains the mandatory testing for 2018 and schools will be requested to provide additional information and observations with the reading test results.
The results of the York Assessment of Reading for Comprehension (YARC) or other reading tests administered if available can be submitted by schools as additional evidence.

Recommendation 6
The mandated reading test be administered no earlier than two years prior to enrolment in VCE units 3 and 4.
For early applications, the reading test must be completed in the same year the application is submitted

Education assessments – impairment in written expression

Recommendation 7
No change to the current essay requirements and analysis process.  The VCAA will continue to request the following:

  • Two hand written essays (for requests for extra working time):
    • Essay 1: A 30 minute task completed under test conditions at the school with no additional support or assistance (i.e. no special provisions).  The prompts will be determined by the VCAA.
    • Essay 2: a recently completed piece of extended response writing i.e. School-assessed Coursework or an internal examination of at least 1-hour duration, completed at the school under test conditions.  Special provisions may have been administered for this task.
    • Essay 3 (only required where a computer/scribe/assistive technology is requested). One typed essay (if application is for the use of a computer and/or assistive technology) or one scribed essay (if the application is for the use of a scribe) administered at the school under the same conditions as Essay 1.  The prompts will be determined by the VCAA.
    • Study teacher/supervisor observations to accompany all essays.

Recommendation 8
Essays be supplemented with additional school based evidence including:

  • study teacher/supervisor observations on the student’s performance in the assessment and whether the essay and result is reflective of the student’s normal working level;

Recommendation 9
Applications for special provision for illegible handwriting and/or handwriting difficulties and/or speed due to motor coordination problems (not associated with a physical disability) may include additional evidence (if available) outlining the history and nature of the student’s problems.  This may include an Occupational Therapists report if relating to motor coordination difficulties.

Educational assessments – impairment in mathematics

Recommendation 10
Applications for special provisions for students with a Specific Learning Disorder in mathematics require the following evidence:

  • a diagnosis of an SLD in mathematics; and/or
  • mathematics specific school based coursework completed by the student;
  • study specific teacher observations of student difficulties, performance in class and in assessments

Appropriate special provisions

Recommendation 11
Assistive technology be included in the range of provisions available to students with a Specific Learning Disorder.
A request for use of assistive technology must be accompanied by supporting evidence from the school that clearly demonstrates the student’s use of the technology and that the technology has become a student’s preferred way of working.

Recommendation 12
Calculated default time of 10 minutes per hour for extra working time.
The VCAA will consider requests for additional time in excess of the default where it can be clearly demonstrated, through professional and/or school-based evidence, there is a compelling need for the additional time.

Early engagement/application with the VCAA

Recommendation 13
Recommended early application /engagement process:

  • Schools can engage with the VCAA (in Years 7 and 8) to discuss appropriate special provisions for students with a Specific Learning Disorder with the proviso a formal application must be submitted from year 9. 
  • Schools will be able to submit formal applications for Special Examination Arrangements for students from Year 9. Evidence requirements for early applications will be the same as those applications submitted the year of VCE.
  • Once an early application for a Specific Learning Disorder has been assessed by the VCAA, it will become the school’s responsibility to contact the VCAA in the period leading up to and including the year in which a student completes a VCE Unit 3-4 sequence(s) to discuss variations to a student’s provisions as a result of any change in their existing circumstance(s) or due to the onset of a new condition.
  • Requests for additional provisions for students with an existing application will be subject to the mandated evidence requirements.
  • New IQ/cognitive assessments will not be required
  • New applications will continue to be accepted for students enrolled in VCE units 3 and 4 who have not submitted an early application.