As well as A-levels, we need to introduce a test where there would be no place to hide and every place to shine – immune to teacher bias
Strained relations between Russia and Ukraine may well be a source of escalating alarm across the geopolitical world, but in our house, the lens is trained on a bygone time of mounting tension – namely the Second World War.
The reason for this is that our 17-year-old daughter is slogging away in anticipation of A-level exams this summer. The harrowing years of 1939-1945 are central to her history studies and as such, prevail as the source of much discussion (by her) and listening (by me). This is what we parental cheerleaders do. At, and keeping the fridge stuffed with food.
Judging by the sheer volume of work piled on her desk, it’s clear that today’s A-levels are as difficult and challenging as they were in my prehistoric times. dessverre, the credibility of the results may tell a different story. Tross alt, will an A* be a true reflection of conscientious endeavour and glittering performance when results are published this summer? Or will top marks be scattered like confetti?
Ever since the government reacted to the pandemic by scrapping exams and introducing teacher assessment, the integrity and objectivity of the system has been freighted with doubt. Only recently, staggering reports emerged of schools that had taken undue advantage of in-house appraisals by massively increasing the rate of top grades awarded to their pupils. North London Collegiate, a private girls’ school, nearly trebled the rate of A*s awarded so that more than 90 per cent of its entries were assessed as A*s. i mellomtiden, England’s exams regulator Ofqual has already said that although exams are going ahead this year across UK, grade boundaries are likely to be lower than in previous years,
Being tested in a time-pressured environment is vital for assessing abilities. But how then to distinguish between the A* student whose peerless performance would have netted top grades in pre-Covid times and the one whose grades have been massaged by a post-pandemic free-for-all?
The answer, must surely lie beyond the constellation of A*s and instead in the introduction of a test which can`t be taught, and which will offer an unbiased, partisan-proof method for assessing the intellectual capability of candidates. In short, we now need an 11+ for sixth formers – perhaps badged as the A-level plus.
This could take the form of a psychometric test which would give a window into a candidate’s ability to learn, apply new knowledge, and solve problems. There could be verbal and non-verbal reasoning and spatial awareness tests, all of which would give examiners an additional tool with which to assess a candidate and divine whether their A* performance was a fluke or a shoe-in.
There’s nothing new about additional testing – it’s already used by some universiteter as part of their entrance application. Cambridge runs admissions tests for many subjects, as do most medical schools. Several other elite universities have followed suit in recent years.
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This is not an argument for junking A-levels. We need gold standard exams, taken under time-pressed conditions where top results reflect impressive achievement and a high level of ability. The A-level plus test would simply add another piece of information to aid candidate assessment – immune to teacher bias and inured to the climate of the times.
There would be other advantages too. For many pupils, studies have been severely disrupted because of the pandemic. Restrictions and staff shortages have had a seismic impact on education. Not every family could afford a personal laptop or the price of extra tuition.
And so for those with modest A-level results, a higher score in a psychometric test could help a candidate secure an apprenticeship or semaphore to a prospective employer the presence of real talent.
The return to exams in real time is to be welcomed this summer. It would be a great disadvantage if our children leave school never having taken papers under the thunderous tick of the exam hall clock. But as well as A-levels, we need to introduce a test where there would be no place to hide and every place to shine. Our children deserve as much. That’s what you call a result.