What should we want from GCSEs & A levels?


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Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development for Cambridge Assessment

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What should we want from GCSEs & A levels?

  1. 1. A new look at standards: What should we want from GCSEs and A levels? Presentation by Tim Oates Group Director Assessment Research and Development (ARD) 13 October 2011
  2. 2. Complex systems <ul><li>Our partial data refer to epiphenomena; we need to apprehend deep structures and concealed trends </li></ul><ul><li>We need to understand examinations in the context of ‘curriculum coherence’ </li></ul><ul><li>Careful thinking or split thinking? We need to understand the limits of our sphere of action (modesty and self-control) but simultaneously the extent of impact and dependencies (sophistication in understanding and in strategic planning) </li></ul>
  3. 3. Exam system has grown into a monster <ul><li>‘…” the volume of assessment has left awarding bodies overstretched, resulting in errors in questions, high dissatisfaction with marking and inconsistency in grades”…’ </li></ul><ul><li>‘…” the volume of assessment over the final three years of secondary school … requires, if it is to be conducted as well as it possibly can be, a far greater application of resource”…’ </li></ul><ul><li>‘… the OCR exam board awarded an A* to 19 per cent of HMC pupils for Physics, while for Edexcel the figure was almost 25 per cent. For Economics, AQA awarded and A* to 16 per cent of HMC candidates but for OCR the figure was 11 per cent…’. </li></ul><ul><li>Important locus of control issues embedded in this statement </li></ul><ul><li>Important implied and explicit models regarding standards </li></ul>Times 07 Sept 2011 Kenneth Durham University College School Hampstead/HMC
  4. 4. The Cambridge Standards Debate <ul><li>Have we moved on? </li></ul>
  5. 5. Why the debate? <ul><li>The existence of mechanisms for possible subtle grade drift </li></ul><ul><li>Evidence from diverse sources – enough to stimulate anxiety </li></ul>
  6. 6. Promoting clarity <ul><li>standards of demand </li></ul><ul><li>content standards </li></ul><ul><li>standards of attainment </li></ul><ul><li>standards over time </li></ul><ul><li>standards between specifications </li></ul><ul><li>standards between subjects </li></ul><ul><li>standards between types of qualifications </li></ul><ul><li>teaching standards and standards of education </li></ul>
  7. 7. Mechanisms <ul><li>A period of constant change in structure and content </li></ul><ul><li>Removal of bias, enhancement of accessibility and transparency of assessments </li></ul><ul><li>Benefit of the doubt </li></ul><ul><li>Increased support via mark schemes, text books </li></ul><ul><li>Emphasis on inclusion </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on attainment – solely on ‘exam performance’ </li></ul><ul><li>Modularisation and complex routes </li></ul><ul><li>Changing cohorts, subject choice </li></ul><ul><li>Massive investment in education </li></ul>
  8. 8. Where to, from here? <ul><li>We should understand, with precision, the impact of efforts to improve standards of attainment </li></ul><ul><li>Reduce the frequency and scope of change in qualifications </li></ul><ul><li>Qualifications should be owned through partnership between schools, Higher Education, employers and awarding bodies </li></ul><ul><li>Fitness for purpose, clarity of purpose and validity – pre-eminent concerns for determining standards </li></ul>
  9. 9. The purposes and functions of qualifications <ul><li>Documenting outcomes of learning </li></ul><ul><li>Supporting specific, valid inference(s) regarding the candidates’ possession of specific knowledge, skills and/or understanding </li></ul><ul><li>Signalling </li></ul><ul><li>Valuation of different aspects of knowledge, skills and understanding </li></ul><ul><li>Discrimination and selection </li></ul><ul><li>Controlling flows into specific occupations and regulating the labour market </li></ul><ul><li>Empowering citizens </li></ul><ul><li>Realigning the control of professions </li></ul><ul><li>Measuring the level of skills and knowledge in the national, sectoral system </li></ul><ul><li>Measuring the performance of the education system </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>Ensuring linkage of content of programmes (training) to work </li></ul><ul><li>Recognising the actual knowledge, skills and competences required in performance </li></ul><ul><li>Fill gaps and update requirements in knowledge, skills and competences </li></ul><ul><li>Guaranteeing the quality of provision for learners </li></ul><ul><li>Guaranteeing the quality of provision for funding agencies </li></ul><ul><li>Affecting the identity of learners </li></ul><ul><li>Effecting social integration </li></ul><ul><li>Conferring status on qualified individuals </li></ul><ul><li>Processes of recognition, accreditation and ‘valuation’ of prior learning </li></ul><ul><li>Managing competences within enterprises </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>Offering inclusion </li></ul><ul><li>Providing orientation, guidance </li></ul><ul><li>Controlling the education and training system generally and the qualifications system specifically </li></ul><ul><li>Enacting reform in education and training </li></ul><ul><li>Influencing the content of learning programmes </li></ul><ul><li>Conditioning or shaping pedagogy </li></ul><ul><li>Conditioning or shaping assessment </li></ul><ul><li>Developing zones of mutual trust (between users of qualifications) </li></ul><ul><li>Providing an accountability mechanism </li></ul><ul><li>Invoking specific models of competence </li></ul>
  12. 12. <ul><li>Giving status to institutional/provider offering </li></ul><ul><li>Shifting control from one agency to another </li></ul><ul><li>Shifting control for assessment in the system </li></ul><ul><li>Protecting the content, standing and identity of a profession </li></ul><ul><li>Providing feedback to learners (formative and diagnostic function) </li></ul><ul><li>Helping teachers and trainers understand the strengths and weaknesses of their provision (evaluative function) </li></ul><ul><li>Introducing innovation </li></ul><ul><li>Protecting consumers </li></ul><ul><li>Delivering public benefits </li></ul><ul><li>Meeting international licensing requirements </li></ul>
  13. 13. A thousand tiny steps… <ul><li>Access, defensibility, and efficiency </li></ul><ul><li>(drift in item forms) </li></ul><ul><li>Standards maintenance – the magnitude of ‘movement’ </li></ul><ul><li>(drift in attainment standards) </li></ul><ul><li>Content standards/validity </li></ul><ul><li>(drift in validity, currency, credibility and learning progression) </li></ul>
  14. 14. The interaction of public understanding and policy <ul><li>The shock and horror of ‘error’ </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Measurement accuracy’ – monitoring it, reducing it </li></ul><ul><li>Dylan Wiliam: ‘….80 hour exams should do it…’ </li></ul><ul><li>How long would you like assessment to be, what do you want them to look like, what do you want them to cost? </li></ul><ul><li>Instruction-sensitive assessment </li></ul>
  15. 15. A/AS level examinations Bassett, D. 2011. Inside Government Forum. Reform of National Exams: Impact on schools and students . 7 July. One Great George Street, Westminster. Briefing notes, BN43 (2009), IFS Candidates Entries Papers Cost (includes correction for inflation) Expenditure on education in England 1970 103,000 (£89.32) 441,898 (£20.82) 643,750 (£14.29) £9.2m £28bn 1990 185,000 (£102.16) 615,725 (£30.70) 1,388,250 (£13.61) £18.9m £45bn 2000 231,351 (£131.83) 672,518 (£45.35) 2,168,916 (£14.06) £30.5m £52bn 2008 256,622 (£275.50) 741,356 (£95.37) 5,455,655 (£12.96) £70.7m £80bn
  16. 16. The race to the bottom <ul><li>What is worse? </li></ul><ul><li>for it to be present but not detect it; the ‘total ignorance ’ option </li></ul><ul><li>for the public to think that it occurs but it does not (and we cannot demonstrate that it does not); the ‘ innocent imprisoned ’ option </li></ul><ul><li>to have it, to not be committed to quantifying it, nor to having policy to arrest it; the ‘ defiantly irresponsible ’ option </li></ul><ul><li>A key claim regarding regulation is removal and/or prevention of competition on standards </li></ul>
  17. 17. A new look at standards: What should we want from GCSEs and A levels? Presentation by Tim Oates Group Director Assessment Research and Development (ARD) 13 October 2011