For the purposes of this paper, however, the point is that pass rates have been rising since the s. Pass rates cited derive from Torrance Torrance, H. View all notes. Essentially, this involves trying to compare results over time with reference to the previous achievement of the cohort and the mix and number of the students taking each subject Ofqual, Ofqual.
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The proposed moves described below to final paper-only examinations, now called linear examinations, with the exam at the end of two years, have yet to impact on results but are likely to lead to further reductions, at least in the first instance, as the change impacts on teaching methods and student learning and performance. To divert attention away from these falling pass rates, and establish as a new baseline for comparisons, the Conservative government is now highlighting the numbers gaining five GCSEs including English and Maths Grade 9 will be the highest grade, with 1 the lowest, which seems counter-intuitive and may cause some confusion in itself the old GCE O-level was graded 1—9.
Grades 9—1 come into effect from in English and Maths, and for other subjects. Under the new system, a grade 4 and above will be equivalent to a C and above. Greening, Greening, J. Nevertheless, currently, we remain in a situation whereby c. Given that these upward trends in results have extended over so many years, some element of a genuine rise in educational standards is likely to be present, driven by better socio-economic conditions of students, higher expectations of educational outcomes by students, parents and teachers alike, and better teaching underpinned by better training and availability of resources.
With increased prosperity most of us are living longer; it is therefore at least plausible that most of us are becoming better educated as well. Research over many years demonstrates that measures of educational achievement are positively correlated with socio-economic status Coleman et al.
Lauder , P. Brown , J. Dillabough and A. Education Policy Analysis Archives , 8, How the use of explicit learning objectives, assessment criteria and feedback in post-secondary education and training can come to dominate learning , Assessment in Education , 14 3 , — Cheating is not unique to England of course. It is an increasingly visible effect of high-stakes accountability testing internationally Nichols and Berliner, Nichols, S.
Overall then, we reached a situation in England around where scores and grades were continuing to rise but the validity, reliability and credibility of the standards achieved became subject to increasing doubt, and the educational experience of even the most successful students, let alone those who are not successful, was compromised. Identifying a problem is one thing of course, assuming that eliminating coursework and teacher involvement in assessment is the only solution is quite another.
The research evidence indicates that it was the compounding effects of the accountability system, and the pressure to raise results at almost any educational cost that was and remains the real issue. Nevertheless, the Conservative government has moved swiftly to abolish coursework and other forms of school-based assessment of students by teachers. It has restricted National Curriculum Assessment at age 11 to externally set and marked tests of Maths, Reading and a Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation test, along with an internal teacher assessment of Writing.
Science testing was ended in Biennial science tests are now used with a sample of students in an attempt to monitor standards in science over time.
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This is interpreted by some observers as a move towards mastering content and assessing greater depth of knowledge Blatchford, Blatchford, R. These changes beg issues of validity at the level of individual measurement and evaluative utility. Testing at age 11 is now conducted almost exclusively via externally set and marked tests. English in particular is now construed as a fragmented collection of constituent parts.
Meanwhile, as regards consequential validity debates about the quality and accountability of individual schools and the English primary school system as a whole are based on a narrow set of tests in two subject areas. In parallel with insisting that tests of grammar, spelling and punctuation be instituted at age 11, GCSE has also come in for similar scrutiny. This led to further problems of teacher workload and practising for the controlled assessments in advance of them actually being conducted Baird et al.
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Oxford, Oxford University. As recently as , Ofqual actually rejected a move back to wholly written examinations: There were suggestions that controlled assessment should be removed, and replaced with written exams. We did not see this as a viable option — many GCSEs include practical elements that cannot be assessed in a written exam.
However, further restrictions on the use of controlled assessment were introduced, which were then overtaken by government policy to end teacher assessment altogether. In effect the GCSE system is being returned to an externally set and marked series of knowledge-based examinations. These proposals have met with significant educational challenge, including from key subject associations arguing for the importance of practical work in science, oral work in English, fieldwork in geography and so forth.
Similar concerns were reported by the Nuffield Foundation with respect to parallel changes being enacted at A-level. Hillman, Hillman, J.
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These are precisely the sorts of arguments that led to the expansion of coursework, modular work and practical work in the first place. However, these arguments have had very little impact on the changes that are being implemented. While practical activities are included in the curriculum, they are not included in the testing framework. The first aspects of the reforms are being phased in and the implementation process through to is summarised in a Ofqual policy paper. Arguments in Science continued until very recently.
The evidence of a separate practical outcome will not actually contribute to the grade on the certificate. This situation has been described by the President of the UK Association of Science Education as a: highly dangerous experiment by Ofqual and ministers to separate the grade for assessed practical work from the main grades at A-level and GCSE. Interestingly, the position of Ofqual is grounded not just in Conservative government concerns about grade inflation, but also in concerns about the educational experience of teachers and students.
Glenys Stacey, the then Chief Executive of Ofqual, in a speech to the Association of College Examinations Officers argued that for too long the assessment system has encouraged… teachers to repeat and rehearse the same narrow group of practicals in order to achieve the best possible grades… assessment drives and trammels what is taught. Again, however, it is not clear how simply abandoning the integration of assessment of practical laboratory work with final examinations will improve this experience or the acquisition of practical skills.
Rather, teachers will simply concentrate on making sure that students can answer questions about conducting experiments. The issue is the pressure of accountability and the pursuit of higher grades at any cost, not the method of assessment.
So, final examinations are set to dominate all aspects of English education. Where does this leave us with respect to debates about validity, a wider curriculum, new forms of assessment and the improvement of educational standards? There are very good reasons for developing new forms of assessment — reasons which derive from what we might term an examining perspective as well as from an educational perspective.
Educationally, new curriculum content which looks to develop knowledge and skills of investigation, data analysis, report-writing, team-working and so forth, clearly looks to assessment methods which can both identify and report such outcomes, and underpin their development.
As Resnick and Resnick Resnick, L. Gifford and M. Such arguments echo those of Wellcome and Nuffield with respect to the development of practical and analytic skills in science education, noted earlier. From an examining perspective, new curriculum goals demand new forms of assessment in order to report grades with validity and reliability — coursework, fieldwork, oral work and so forth can capture different outcomes from end-of-course written tests, including ephemeral outcomes such as confidence in discussion and problem-solving.
When we also then add in ideas about formative assessment and changes in pedagogy, including students drafting work, receiving feedback on it and redrafting it for final submission, we produce a potentially very positive situation in which students can be supported to develop their knowledge and understanding of subject matter over time and produce their best possible work for examination purposes. Equally, however, such arguments present the traditional demands of an assessment system, with very great challenges.
A further paper in the ATCS series argues that: Problem solving assessment tasks will need to represent… open-ended tasks permitting multiple appropriate methods for eliciting evidence of how well learners plan, conduct and interpret evidence… [but]… the state of practice for assessing 21 st century skills integrated into learning activities remains in its infancy… Scardamalia et al. Enacted in a context of intense accountability pressures, as has been the case in England, flexible, formative assessment practices can lead to little more than coaching students to meet examination criteria thus undermining the validity and credibility of results.
It also leaves students with little in the way of in-depth understanding, and expecting to be similarly coached at university and indeed in employment. A key issue for this paper, however, is that improving the validity and reliability of open forms of assessment involving teacher assessment of their students in school is possible, and it is with such issues that assessment policy, research and development should be trying to engage see also CISCO, CISCO.
From a political perspective, however, evidence of grade inflation has been seized upon to turn the educational clock back, once more, in the name of protecting traditional educational standards. A major issue is the likely impact on the curriculum and on the educational experience and outcomes of future cohorts of students.
In England, we are faced with a number of apparently irreconcilable economic, social and political pressures. Neo-liberal human resource development theory produces policy which seeks to extend educational provision to the widest possible student group.
Pursuing different curriculum goals requires the development and use of a wider range of assessment methods. In tandem with these developments, educational arguments seek to implement formative feedback to promote learning. However, accountability measures introduced to reassure government that it is receiving an appropriate return on its investment in education exert pressure on schools and teachers to raise grades, irrespective of whether or not they reflect real improvements in student achievement. The validity of the assessment is thus called into question and the resultant rise in examination passes, supposedly the key indicator of rising educational standards and the success of policy, can be interpreted as evidence of falling standards.
We are left with some acute questions: How can the assessment of a wide range of individual achievements be reconciled with political pressure to use examination results to measure the system as a system? How can flexible assessments be developed that respond to the need for a more expansive and flexible curriculum without compromising the quality of the educational challenge that such a curriculum should comprise?
Developing sound approaches to authentic or performance assessment should be the focus of policy and research but at present this is not the case. It is clear that for purposes of educational quality and accountability, educational systems should employ multiple measures of achievement if possible, but equally it is clear that the greater the scale and scope of the assessment system, the more difficult it is to accommodate different methods of assessment at a high level of quality.
A further 3. Similarly, the more individual student achievement is tied to system accountability, the more accountability measures will dominate pedagogy and student experience. Therefore policy should decouple accountability measures from routine student assessment and address the monitoring of standards over time by use of specifically designed tests with small national samples;. The introduction of the new national reference test in may be interpreted as something of a move in the direction of 1 above. A small sample of students c. At present, however, the tests are intended to contextualise GCSE results and help to evaluate any further debate about grade inflation or indeed the reverse, given the arguments in this paper that headline results may now continue to fall.
Similarly, as noted above, there is significant international interest in developing new forms of assessment which would underpin the policy developments outlined in 2 above. There is also considerable research evidence about how models of moderation could be integrated with and underpin continuing professional development for teachers involved in assessment such that issues of validity and reliability of results could be addressed Black et al. The issue is one of political will and where best to invest in the education and assessment of students.
We are a long way from the scenario envisaged in 1 and 2 in England at present. Equally, however, the OECD itself might pay more attention to the empirical evidence reported above. When the same assessments are used to measure individual achievement and the effectiveness of the system via processes of accountability, the pressure to improve grades undermines belief in their credibility.
Thus when, for whatever reasons, more and more students pass more and more exams, educational arguments about the wider purposes of assessment are all too easily set aside. The author is grateful to Professor Val Klenowski for organising the symposia in which the papers were presented and to Queensland University of Technology and the Australian Association for Research in Education for their support.