Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Public Examinations a Waste of Time

The tale of duplicity, complicity, hypocricy and general woe over the issue of the education of teachers, which continues to spew forth from the good person who somehow manages to think clearly whilst undertaking a Post-Grad Cert. of Ed, might have me wondering whether this individual was suffering from some kind of mania, what with all that pressure of ideas. But it is quite clear the individual is more than all there, since the criticisms of schooling theory are all so cogent and usually devastating.

I wish I could keep up, but to pick but one example, pretty much at random: We all know that the GCSE examinations are corrupt in innumerable ways. For example, the fact that the government means that they will be voted in on better results means that they hand any reasonably sassy parent the means to inflate the grades by letting them assist with course work that then goes towards the final mark.

In addition, teachers are allowed to construct answers to exam questions to an almost unprecedented degree. This is apparently called "scaffolding", or some such euphemism for what used to be called cheating.

Despite Marlborough's experiment in the 70's, when the school got boys to sit two German exams set by two different examination boards, with the result that some boys got top marks with one board, and failed with another, there appears to be still no improvement in this area of consistency between boards. There is still widespread acceptance in the teaching profession at least, that boards differ hugely in their marking systems and give very different grades for the same piece of work.

Why then to we continue to take all this examination nonsense seriously? It shouldn't be so much more difficult for employers to find those who have a genuine interest and ability and it certainly would save them time later when they find they have employed an A grade dud.


Anonymous said...

There are so many problems with GCSEs and other exams, employers should hardly pay any attention to them at all. On top of all the things you've mentioned, teachers also mark coursework that goes towards the final exam. Not surprising that some universities have had to introduce their own entrance exams.


Anonymous said...

What is more awful is people will learn to get good grades in the exams but will not learn the skills.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of 'employers', they apparently did find the GCSE exams valuable because course work is supposed to teach the following skills: meeting deadlines, organizing one's own work, research skills etc.

Ball (1990) said that 'the introduction of the GCSE, with its emphasis on coursework and project work, received a unanimous vote of support from those speaking for industry'.

So, for some employers, it seems, knowing how to get good grades in such exams is the skill they require.

Some criticism of coursework presented soon after its introduction was that it is nothing more than 'continual testing' (rather than the 'continuous assessment' which is supposed to be a 'rounded judgement' based on the pupil's performance 'across a range of contexts'). And there was some concern at the time about how this might impact on learning - 'perhaps disembedded learning has mor value than situated cognition', Lave 1988. Perhaps some one would have listened to him if he had found a different way of expressing himself!

Of course, there was also concern about the potential lack of integrity of teachers marking their own pupils work, particularly given the league tables and the 'naming and shaming' of 'failing' schools that had started. The lack of integrity could be the anticipated failing that will end the coursework era.


Carlotta said...

Indeed, which makes me wonder if employers are still finding the coursework GCSEs useful, now that they realise how grades are inflated?

Boris is on good form on this here:


but I think he is wrong about the solution, because the independent overseer would presumably have to insist that they go back to the original single test exam, and then we get back to Leo's criticism that it is perfectly possible to mug up for an exam and then forget all the information the very next day. A top mark needn't represent any deep form of learning at all.

Whichever way you swing it, exams look redundant and employers should just get a little better at sorting out genuinely motivated candidates...perhaps get everyone first off, to write an essay, then interview, etc.