Yes, year 11 exams are challenging; that’s the idea

Tom Sherrington on the need for balance and pragmatism when considering school exams.

GCSE Exams: Keeping a proportionate positive perspective.
Despite the fact that we’ve been running Y11 exams in one form or another for decades, there is always a fairly strong undercurrent in the discourse around the annual exam season characterised by a sense of injustice and unreasonableness. […]

This recent article by Simon Jenkins is a classic example of this kind of anti-exam hysteria. It’s so way over the top, it’s hard to take any of the arguments seriously.

Let me restore some balance.

My son’s just about finished his year 11 exams, and I’ve been very proud of his attitude towards them. He’s really taken to heart the maxim, ‘you get out what you put in’.

In my view there is a healthy pressure and work ethic that endpoint assessments generate. As a parent I’ve been quite happy to see my kids work really hard – super hard – for several months, motivated by the desire to succeed; to be ready to do their best. I totally reject the idea that this is intrinsically unfair or unhealthy or that the kind of exam revision required to get top GCSE grades is superficial and temporary. Would our kids know more in five years’ time if they hadn’t sat their exams – no! They’d know much less. They have much greater chance of remembering knowledge having had to revise extensively. This is particularly true, for both of my children and countless students I’ve taught, because the exam revision process had yielded multiple lightbulb moments. The intensity of study suddenly brings things together that were only half understood before.

Stressful, testing times

Haven’t we been here before?

Primary school headteacher quits over government’s curriculum reforms with emotional letter
On the controversial Sats exams, Ms Ahmad told The Independent: “I don’t have an issue at all with assessment but why do we have to put these pressures on children? In Year 6 it is exam conditions. In my opinion it is wrong – these children are 10 or 11.

“I feel that cannot put children’s needs first, and in my opinion that is the most important thing. I would do anything to look after my children but it has become harder and harder to do.” Earlier this month, The Independent revealed that thousands of parents are expected to withdraw their 10- and 11-year-olds from the Sats exams next month over concerns about their wellbeing.

Here’s Michael Rosen’s view on the SATs, from a few years ago now.

Michael Rosen: They say we’ve politicised the children’s stress. No, it’s the stress that’s political.
When you have high stakes*, summative**, norm-referenced*** testing, (e.g. SATs) you have to have enough questions which a given percentage of people will get wrong. That’s because the people who design these tests are told that the results have to come out looking right on a particular kind of graph. This is the so-called ‘normal’ distribution of children or students doing a given exam. If a test is given and ‘too many’ children appear to have done well, then the test will be condemned as being ‘too easy’ and newspaper columnists will say that the country is going to the dogs. So, these kinds of tests must have the ‘right’ proportion of failures. It has to be built-in to the test, and into the lead-up to the tests – in other words into what we call ‘education’ (!).

I guess those issues haven’t gone away. But look the government says it’s all going well, right?

Primary school tests show schools rising to the challenge
The national Key Stage 2 results show that 61% of primary school children in England achieved the expected standard, compared to 53% last year.

So it’s not just the students that cheat

The Guardian reporting on a Sunday Times story.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating to improve exam results
Nearly 2,300 malpractice offences were committed by staff in educational institutions offering OCR exams between 2012 and 2016, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request by the Sunday Times. More than half of the teachers committing malpractice offences were accused of providing “improper assistance” to students taking exams. In comparison, there were 3,603 cases of candidates being caught cheating over the same period.

Read more on The Times website (if you’ve bought a subscription).

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in exams
Teachers cheat in exams nearly as often as pupils but escape with far lighter punishment, according to figures that OCR, one of the country’s leading exam boards, tried to suppress. The scandal has come to light after the information commissioner ordered OCR to answer questions from The Sunday Times.

And here’s The Telegraph, not to be outdone, wanting to remind us of its own investigative journalism.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in tests as MPs demand transparency from exam boards
The disclosures come after an investigation by this newspaper last year uncovered an exam cheating scandal embroiling senior teachers at some of the country’s leading independent schools. The scandal, which resulted in the Government ordering the exam regulator Ofqual to launch an inquiry, saw teachers at Eton and Winchester College dismissed for leaking details of upcoming test papers to their pupils.

Useful invigilator training materials

​It’s coming up to that time of year again. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

The Exams Office: Invigilation
Exams officers are required to recruit, train and deploy invigilators. An effective team of invigilators can not only ensure that exams run smoothly, but they can also undertake a range of additional tasks which could help ease the burden placed upon exams officers during an exams series. The Exams Office has produced a series of support resources which will help our members develop the best possible team of invigilators in their centre.

“Integrating” and “rationalising”

Pearson, the company behind Edexcel and BTEC, amongst others, are in the news today.

Pearson to cut 4,000 jobs after second profit warning in three months
“Faced with these challenges, we are today announcing decisive plans to further integrate the business and reduce the cost base, rationalise our product development and focus on fewer, bigger opportunities.”

Interesting language there, and a slight clash between it and the headline. Another article runs along similar lines:

Pearson to cut 10% of workforce as it issues profit warning
The company said Thursday it expects to report adjusted operating profit in 2015 of approximately £720 million and adjusted earnings per share of between 69 pence and 70 pence. It previously forecast EPS to come in at the lower end of a range of 70 pence to 75 pence. In October, the company also cut its forecasts.

Re-mark remarks

More than 90,000 exam grades changed
“As data published today by Ofqual shows, each year over 8 million GCSE and A level grades are awarded to a high level of accuracy. Although the number of enquiries about results increased in 2015, the proportion of all grades changed was 1.1%,” said the JCQ’s director general Michael Turner.

It may well be only 1%, but a considerable amount of time and expense goes into re-marks. Another consequence of league tables?

Daily Mail calmly assesses the state of higher education for us

Paul Greatrix finds a great piece from the Daily Mail about the current state of higher education.

Firsts and fees, plagiarism and pay hikes (and the rest)
Daily Mail online has a terrific piece which manages to conflate a host of different higher education issues within a single kick ass column. On the back of recent HESA data which shows an increase in the number of students achieving first and upper second class degrees the article moves on to plagiarism, league table corruption, commercialisation (not clear if good or bad), the optionality of HEAR (bad?), an ‘expert’ view of classifications, coercion of external examiners, VC pay increases and fee rises in the context of declining HE funding. Unbelievable? … A veritable smorgasbord of entertaining higher education observations. All in one short piece. Truly the Mail is spoiling us.

Read the rest of his post or go to the Daily Mail article itself, ‘Dumbed-down’ degrees: University standards under fire as 50% more students awarded a first.

Viewing the html source for this page reveals its more hysterical, original title, which I prefer I think:

So we’re not dumbing down? Number of students graduating with first class degrees soars by 45% in just FIVE YEARS | Mail Online

OMG!

Worrying statistics?

Worrying statistics

Documenting the curious increase in claimed family deaths — especially of grandmothers — during tests season at college
This gem is from “The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society” by Mike Adams (The Connecticut Review, 1990). Adams’ hilarious explanation for this phenomenon:

“Only one conclusion can be drawn from these data. Family members literally worry themselves to death over the outcome of their relatives’ performance on each exam. Naturally, the worse the student’s record is, and the more important the exam, the more the family worries; and it is the ensuing tension that presumably causes premature death.” — www.easternct.edu/~adams/Resources/Grannies.pdf