Yes its that time again when the media raises its collective head and starts whining about how these exams are obviously easy then they used to be given the number of high marks.
Yep more students have passed with more getting an A-grade, so why is this? Well we have two real options:
- Students are more intelligent, or
- Exams are getting easier.
Onto option 2 which can be broken down as follows:
- Exams are getting easier
- The questions are easier, or
- The marking is more lenient, or
- The students are picking 'easier' subjects, or
- The teaching is tailored only towards passing the exam.
Option 2.2 is supported by various stories floating around such as students being awarded marks simply for providing an answer regardless of its relevance to the question. However this may only be one-off situations.
Option 2.3 requires a definition of 'easier' subjects, consensus seems to be those that require subjective analysis for an art exam 'Is this painting good?', for dance or media 'Do they perform well?'. Although such subjects will also have an objective component it appears the subjective section holds a fair proportion of the mark when compared to 'harder' subjects that rely on objective results 'Calculate this!" in a mathematics exam for instance can have only one correct answer (although marks are given for logical calculation even if an error is made). Using that definition the reports suggest that the 'harder' subjects are being dropped in favour of 'easier' ones.
Option 2.4 becomes an obvious result when it is considered that funding and performance are all rated on the basis of exam results. As with any competitive situation those that concentrate solely and repetitively on improving that which is being measured are likely to do better in such tests than those who opt for a more rounded method.
My opinion is that it may well be that this generation of exam takers are smarter then previous ones, but this will remain unknown due to lenient marking, an increase in subjects with subjective examination, and teaching to the test.
Time to suggest ways to counter this. First off examiners are made to mark previously assessed exams, if the new assessment is a certain percentage out from the previous assessment the examiner is dismissed or re-trained.
Subjective examination can't be removed for obvious reasons, it is also difficult to suggest that students be forced to take at least one 'hard' subject thus sapping their time and energy in doing something they may have no aptitude for.
For teaching to the test the simplistic option would be to remove using these exams as performance targets, however we still require some method of evaluating the worth of both school and/or teacher. Perhaps a once-removed approach whereby schools are assessed by the results of their pupils at university. This would necessitate the reinstatement of government paid tuition fees to remove wealth bias, but would highlight those schools sending their students off with only rote knowledge.
Ah well those are my thoughts, feel free to suggest others or pick mine apart.