Wednesday, June 29

Let’s not go back to faulty exams. We have better ways to evaluate our children | Peter hyman

TOAfter a week of GCSE and A-level results, we are in danger of missing the important point: our evaluation system is not fit for purpose. Ruin the last four years of school on a tight, stressful, unfair, and poorly designed exam carousel. So before we go back to flawed pre-Covid exams, now is the time for a sea change.

We are told that the results of teacher evaluations are “grade inflation,” but perhaps they reflect the reality of grades – the reality of what a child has learned in that subject over time, rather than just what they can remember in that high-pressure moment in an exam room.

Simon Lebus, director of Ofqual, the watchdog of exams, is right when he says: “The exams are a bit like a snapshot, a photograph – it is captured in an instant, it is a form of sampling – while teacher evaluation allows teachers to observe student performance over a much longer period, of a much more complex way, taking into account many different jobs and coming up with a holistic judgment. We can be satisfied that it probably provides a much more accurate and substantial reflection of what your students are capable of achieving. “

This is particularly true for the most disadvantaged students. The received wisdom is that the examinations are more fair and impartial. Put that aside Ofqual admits Since one in four grades is poorly scored, evidence from our schools suggests that students living in poverty are the hardest hit by having to perform at high-risk times in the test room. And many people are not aware that in a normal year of exams one third of the students, often with the mark “the forgotten third”They have to fail their exams, no matter how well they do, due to grade limits. In other countries, like the US, if you meet the criteria, you pass.

Of course, without internal and external training and restraint to get rid of biases and inaccuracies, teacher-assessed grades can run into problems, but this has been exceeded for years in subjects such as theater, music and art and the extended project qualification (EPQ), which is highly respected by universities.

I understand the impulse of some teachers, marked by the enormous amount of extra work and the pressure accumulated on them this year, to want to go back to external exams. But that would be a great missed opportunity. Many teachers have benefited from powerful professional development in curriculum and assessment in the past two years, and we must leverage these skills to shape a new system.

To be successful, we need to win the argument about “rigor” in education. In the hands of former education secretary Michael Gove, rigor became the term for the toughest exams; Harder exams were interpreted to mean more subject content. However, this is not rigorous. Rigor should mean that the assessment system is a true reflection of each child’s diverse strengths – their knowledge, skills, and dispositions. A rigorous assessment system would go beyond superficial knowledge and exam technique and would value the ability to think, understand, and apply knowledge. Identify the broader strengths and dispositions of each child. It would capture the development of each child throughout their schooling, not just in a few days, so that we get rid, once and for all, of the moment on the edge of the cliff of the revelation of 10 numbers or letters on the day of GCSE.

To do this, we need to change both what we assess and how we assess it (this needs to be varied, not just all the eggs in the test basket). Ways to accomplish this would include the following three:

First, students must be able to study interdisciplinary courses, not just single-subject courses. So a Steam GCSE (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), not just separate math and science. Some independent and state schools are designing their own courses on global perspectives, migration, and climate change.

Second, we must recognize each child’s strengths in the dispositions that are key to thriving in the modern world: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication (or orality). Employers spend a great deal of time evaluating them when they hire, many believe they are now a better indicator of high performance than a degree.

Third, we could have many modes of evaluation, not just examinations and evaluation of teachers, but other methods that are now widely used, for example, in universities. If you are studying medicine at a Russell Group university, you are not only evaluated through exams, but also through observations, structured, live discussions, folders of evidence. And universities have experimented with open-book exams and long-term exams, and both have been successful. Assessments can be done in high schools over several years, when the student is ready, rather than in a large group at the same time.

All over the world, there are interesting assessment practices that we can learn from. Many of these practices serve a similar purpose: to expand what is valued in school beyond a narrow set of tests. (This article is Bill Lucas’s excellent selection of some of the top ones: The Master’s Transcription Consortium in the United States it offers a more holistic dashboard of a student’s achievement. The Australian Council for Educational Research has worked successfully with schools on how to provide evidence for dispositions such as creativity and critical thinking.

This autumn, Rethink the evaluation (a coalition of schools, employers, universities, teachers and parents) will be conducting research projects in classrooms across the country in each of these three areas and we are looking to get more schools involved.

The goal is to capture the evidence and begin to design a “more complete learning record,” a digital transcript of all the strengths and achievements of each child. This passport could be tailored by the student to meet the needs of employers, universities and colleges and would mean that young people leave school with something that genuinely reflects what they can do and who they are.

This would be an assessment reform that should be implemented over time with adequate training and support for teachers. It is one that we believe will have widespread support, will be much fairer, will motivate young people and will prepare them adequately for the future.

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