8 Dec 2011

Exam boards still don't pass the test...

Photo: comedy_nose
The recent allegations regarding examiners 'giving away' key information has provoked another outpouring of annoyance from many in the teaching profession.  I seriously consider the examination system in this country to be discredited, mostly unaccountable, and more interested in making profit than trying to get the best out of our students, and upholding standards.

For one, does the country need so many different exam boards? The idea has, I suppose always been about choice.  If we don't like what one board does, well we can switch to another.  We changed boards a few years ago, feeling that our students would do better under a different organisation.  Not that the discussion was not entirely around teaching and learning, but about which board would be fairer (and easier) for our students.  In all honestly, these are not the sort of discussions schools should be having, but in the chase for the A*-C percentage, then it is only logical to weigh up one's options.

If we bemoan the standards that our students achieve, and their apparent lack of skills upon leaving school, I feel you can point the finger at teachers.  Yep, it's our fault.  It's our fault because we teach the students what they need to know to pass the exams, and have no time in the curriculum for anything else.  Until the assessment changes, then this will carry on.  How students can achieve A* or A at GCSE in a modern language, and yet still lack the grammatical understanding for AS Level is an outrage.

Of course, to help train (rather than teach) students to pass their exams, there are a number of useful strategies.  First of all you invest in your course resources.  A good text book is a start.  It helps if you buy the text book that is "exclusively endorsed" by the exam board that your students are following.  You can also attend the CPD workshops run by the exam board, for which schools have to pay, but then it's really important that we know all the hints and tips that the chief examiners can offer, isn't it?  The fact of the matter is that the exams business is just that - a business, and there is money to be made from it - but is profit coming before standards?  Maybe someone else can answer that question.

If we expect the best from our students, then surely we should have the same expectations of the examination bodies that assess them.  As teachers we work hard, and at times under extreme pressure to prepare students for the GCSEs and A Levels, and we have a right to expect that the exams are marked fairly and consistently.  The rise in the number of remarks (for which schools have to pay) would indicate that consistency is not being applied as it should.  Why not? In modern languages I have been stunned by the differences between the marking in French and Spanish, often taught and moderated by the same teachers. Then you only have to look at exam papers that have errors on them.  That is a disgrace which should never, ever happen. 

I'm not a massive fan of Mr Gove's policies, but I welcome any review he orders into the awarding bodies, in the hope they get their house in order.

1 comment:

aliceayel said...

Alex, I do agree with you and I do agree that we do train students instead of teaching them. What strikes me the most is that students are able to pass the exams because they learnt some sentences/topics by heart, however when it comes to having and holding a conversation, they cannot do it! Therefore I do not think those exams and ways of assessing students are valid. In my point view they do not show that students are able to interact in another language, which should be the key objective of our teaching.