The Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment (OUCEA
) has summarised research evidence which relates to proposed reforms of GCSE. OUCEA found:
1 International test data shows no decline in the performance of English students
2 International test data can’t simply be taken at face value and need to be interpreted carefully.
3 Grade inflation at GCSE hasn’t been established.
(a) Rises in grades might be explained by pupils working harder, better teaching, more learning support and higher aspirations.
(b) But exams could be easier, or testing the wrong kind of learning in a target-driven education system.
4 Increasing the demands of exams will not have the desired effect of raising standards if pupils aren’t equipped with the means to meet those raised demands. For example, increasing the amount of reading required in science exams will not test science.
5 It isn’t easy to stretch pupils in an end of course written exam. Case studies and tasks which required the application of knowledge are perceived as more challenging than recall questions because they required deeper thinking.
6 Increasing the demands of exams may not be appropriate for those pupils who currently don’t achieve Grade C GCSE.
7 Increasing the demands of exams can demoralise higher ability pupils by undermining their confidence.
8 Successful school systems spend large amounts of money on education, and tend to prioritise teachers’ pay, according to OECD.
9 Helping pupils to apply knowledge rather than just recall and repeat it is one way by which top-performing school systems raise school performance.
10 Improving provision for low-performing pupils and increasing equality of learning outcomes is another way to improve a country’s overall performances.
11 Understanding mark schemes give pupils valuable information about what they are expected to do, takes the guess-work out of understanding learning targets or what counts as high quality work.
12 Being familiar with an exam format makes it more likely that pupils will be assessed on their knowledge, skills and understanding.
13 Today’s young people are aspirational. Motivation is encouraged by:
(a) The opportunity to meet new challenges and perfect skills
(b) The opportunity to be autonomous – regulating themselves rather than be externally controlled;
(c) Making meaningful bonds with others.
14 Assessment and qualification systems, therefore, can contribute to motivation by providing pupils with the opportunities outlined above.
15 Effort matters.
16 Modular exams are not necessarily easier.
17 The main challenge is how to develop a valid, reliable exam that measures the subject accurately and also predicts what pupils are able to do after they’ve taken the exam.
18 High-stakes tests can encourage teaching-to-the-test and the neglect of important skills such as critical thinking.
19 Deep learning and developing understanding should be the goals. Exam tasks should be rich and complex.
20 Exams should test knowledge and skills: the underlying principles of a subject. A written exam alone can’t do that.
21 Assessing the whole ability range could be met by such strategies as tiered papers, multiple papers, general and extended papers, computer adaptive testing, multistage testing and individual modules.
The OUCEA finding should give Education Secretary Michael Gove something to think about – single, end-of-course exams are inadequate.