Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Exams: fiddles and diddles

 A comment I put up on this thread:


1. All exam boards, all authorities checking exam boards manipulate the results that they receive in from markers.
2. The boards etc will always say that they're doing it for reasons of fairness but they would, wouldn't they?
3. They are in fact doing it in order to justify their own existence as arbiters.
4. When students sit down to exams they believe that they're going to be marked on the basis of whether they can or can't fulfil the task set them.
5. In fact, most exams are operating a system that is hardly ever explained in full to the students out of fear it might demotivate them: ie that their result will be put into a mixer and extracted to appear on a graph that will be the 'right shape'. This might be a matter of tweaking, or it might be a matter of it being the predicted outcome. Those of us who have been a success in the exam system over the last 60 years (including me) are people who were designated the 'right' place on this shape.
6. This 'right shape' is a historical construct: it says to boards, markers, politicians, teachers: this is the intellectual 'shape' of the population.
7. In fact, exams themselves are systems which prove whether people are good or bad at a particular kind of exam. They do not prove much else.
8. This particular episode is in fact one in hundreds of similar tweakings and fiddles that go all the way back to the origins of national testing and the supposed 'reliability' of them.
9. The core problem with exams is that there is a tug-of-war between 'validity' and 'reliability'. Thus: the more 'reliable' you make a test, eg through very narrow -based questioning of some kind, the less 'valid' you make it ie you end up testing what people don't know rather than what they do know.
10. Further to this, it is clear that several key features of what makes someone a good learner, or good 'player' in the world beyond school will not and cannot be tested by these 'sit-down-heads-down-write-down' kinds of tests eg the ability to contribute to and learn from others; eg the ability to be flexible when faced with new problems; eg the ability to construct for oneself (or with others) learning and/or research and/or enquiries.
11. For all the government's puffed-up rhetoric about 'gold standard', there is every indication that these 16plus exams are becoming redundant. There is a desperate need for people to continue education and training till 18. A government will bite the bullet soon and implement this - hopefully in a humane and non-punitive way. Any testing at 16 should be to help students direct their thoughts and energies in the right place for them and not be this huge apparatus that mills and grinds all subjects in the same way. If national testing is needed it need, perhaps, be only in place for English language and Maths and the rest could be locally devised and used by schools, colleges, students and parents as guides to the student in order to help them find out what kind of post-16 education/training they really want to do.
12. What has happened to this year's school students and their GCSE's is shameful. I hope that they will be regraded and/or the grades ignored by all colleges etc. For what it's worth, I predict that Gove will tough this one out. If Hunt and Cameron can tough out Leveson, Gove can tough out this one.