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The capacity of schooling to overcome disadvantage in society is a recurring topic of discussion and debate in countries around the world. Current government-led reforms of curriculum, assessment and schooling often aim to address inequality, as part of broader agendas to improve national productivity and social wellbeing. Recent approaches to curriculum reform in a number of countries emphasize the importance of defining rigorous standards for all students. A curriculum review of the senior secondary years, conducted recently in two regions of Australia, combined a focus on standards with strategies related to the personal relevance of the curriculum for students. The position presented in this article is that efforts to make curriculum immediately relevant for senior secondary students can restrict opportunities to learn and achieve within all curriculum areas. Specific examples from a range of learning areas demonstrate how aspects of curriculum and assessment design that could help to support students at risk of not succeeding can be undermined by attempts to make the new curriculum relevant to students' current lives. The example of curriculum reform presented in this paper highlights the importance of evaluating the outcomes of standards-based reform in education within local contexts.

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