The examinations farce

Today I have reached a personal milestone.This is my 500th post! As I look back on the many subjects that I have covered in these posts I see that the best thing that can be said is “plus ca change c’est la meme chose”.

This is particularly marked in regard to a subject that I have referred to on many occasions, examinations and testing. The basic premise that I have is that they are unfair and do not tell us anything about the student.

This is particularly marked in regard to the current controversy about the recent decision by the Government’s examinations and testing watchdog “Ofqual” to demand that examination boards raise the pass mark for certain grades in English.

This only serves to prove what I and many  other critics of examinations and testing have always said, they are arbitrary and can be changed at the behest of the examination writers or other agencies such as the Government. We are all aware of the controversy that has been running for a number of years about the “downgrading” of examinations. It seems that a  pass of a GCE O Level in the 1960’s (when I took mine) might well get you an A Level or even higher these days!

What then does this tell us about the validity of examinations to tell us about a student? They have so many variables other than those that were mentioned above in respect of grading and pass marks.They take place at times when some students may be ill. They test a certain narrow array of facts, they are often about a teacher’s hunch as to what questions are likely to come up, if they include assessed work there are questions about plagiarism or indeed just who actually did the work! Most importantly they do not tell us anything about the student’s real understanding or interest in the subject. How many of us have sat through a mathematics GCE or GCSE  and mechanically done questions in order to gain a narrow “Pass” grade so as we will never have to do any of it again?

The grades awarded  are used to honour some schools and to shame others. They can spell the end of some teachers’ careers and be the making of others. It is a lottery and a treadmill which even the Chinese with their infamous Gaokao are now believing can be dysfunctional in a world that has moved on beyond the narrow testing of facts learnt in a rote manner.

But here we are, my 500th post and a subject that I have been writing about throughout the life of my blog is still here and still terrorising unfortunate students, some of whom will kill themselves due to the pressure that it exerts. Will my 1000th post be about the iniquity of an outdated system?  I wouldn’t bet against it!


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