Tag: assessment

Reducing exam stress by removing pointless exams

In the UK, it used to be the case that children could leave school at 16. This was the reason for ‘O’ levels (which my parents took), and GCSEs, which I sat at that age.

However, these days, young people must remain in education or training until they are 18 years old. What, then, is the point of taking exams aged 16 and 18?

A group of Tory MPs has written a report, with one of the authors, Flick Drummond, making some good points:

The paper argues that preparation for GCSE exams means that pupils miss a large chunk of valuable learning because of the time taken up with mock exams and revision, followed by the exams themselves. “That’s almost six months out of a whole year spent preparing for exams,” said Drummond.


She said she was particularly concerned by the impact of exams on mental health, citing a report backed by the Children’s Society in August that ranked England 36th out of 45 countries in Europe and North America for wellbeing.


Instead, the new report says, the exams should be replaced by a baccalaureate, which would cover several years’ study and would allow children more time from the age of 15 to settle on the subjects they wanted to study in the sixth form for A-levels or vocational qualifications such as T-levels and apprenticeships, and to explore potential careers in a structured way.

Richard Adams, Tory MPs back ditching GCSE exams in English school system overhaul (The Guardian)

As a parent of children who could be affected by this, I actually think this should be trialled first in the private sector and then rolled out in the state sector. Too often, the private sector benefits from treating state school pupils as guinea pigs, and then cherry-picking what works.

Education is about the journey, not the destination

I’m a big fan of Cathy Davidson, and look forward to reading her new book. In this article, she explains that we’ve unleashed an ‘educational monster’ by forcing students to be memorisers rather than content creators:

Increasingly, we are shrinking educational opportunities for our youth worldwide, robbing them of the creativity of the arts, the critical thinking of the humanities and social sciences, and reducing all knowledge to test scores, despite repeated workforce studies stressing the importance of deep learning. The trend is to use standardised tests as the entrance to university and therefore to a middle-class future, even though we have ample research, extending back to the Hermann Ebbinghaus memory experiments of the 1880s, about the evanescence of knowledge crammed for the purpose of test-taking.

As ever with Cathy’s writing, it’s a good and well-researched read. I’m not sure about framing it in terms of ‘outcomes-based’ education, however, as judging people by outcomes in the workplace is generally seen as a good thing. Perhaps emphasise that the journey is more important than the destination? That’s why granular badges within a portfolio are a great alternative to letter grades and high-stakes testing.

Source: The Guardian

Put a number next to someone’s name and there will be pressure for it to increase

In her review of Daniel Koretz’s new book on testing in schools, Diane Ravitch reminds us of Campbell’s law:

In 1979, the psychologist Donald Campbell proposed an axiom. “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making,” he wrote, “the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Ravitch applies this to high-stakes testing in school, using a story from Soviet Russia to bring the point home:

The classic (and probably apocryphal) illustrations of Campbell’s law come from the Soviet Union. When workers were told that they must produce as many nails as possible, they produced vast quantities of tiny and useless nails. When told they would be evaluated by the weight of the nails, they produced enormous and useless nails. The lesson of Campbell’s law: Do not attach high stakes to evaluations, or both the measure and the outcome will become fraudulent.

High stakes testing in schools is pernicious, Ravitch writes:

The children from elite homes are convinced by their test scores that they deserve their high status; their scores demonstrate their superiority. And children of the poor learn early on that they rank poorly; their test scores confirm their lowly status.

Source: New Republic

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