Sunday, 22 April 2012

Why Controlled Assessment is stupid

No this isn't about questioning the integrity of teachers. It isn't about 'teaching to the test'. Nor is it about the good ol' days of coursework. Controlled Assessments are ridiculous because they don't prepare students for the real world.

You could apply most of my arguments to exams, and I would agree, but a good exam really tests the skills a student has absorbed. A percentage of controlled assessment, showing what a student can do without help is valuable, but when in the real world do you not have access to help?

The internet, other people, and (God help us) books, are nearly always readily available (unless we are testing survival skills in a remote desert environment). Why then do Controlled Assessments ignore this? I even object to the archaic use of pen on paper (controversial bit no.1). Which jobs don't expect research, presentations or other assignments to be in electronic form nowadays?

In 2012, we are still testing students in silence, with a pen and paper, in a hall with a hundred other students. How does this relate to the world our children inhabit nowadays? How does it prepare them successfully for the future and all its innovations? The only thing it tests better than other methods of assessment is memory, and do I even need one of those if I have a smartphone or access to the internet?

I would also guess that in fewer than 10 years speech recognition software will be so good that even typing something like this will be obsolete. I now speak into my phone when I want to send a text message, yet the option for oral reading assessment has gone from GCSE English. Surely a backward move? It reminds me of my own time as a student when 'Computer Studies' was for those in the bottom stream. How short-sighted was that?

Plagiarism is, of course, held up as a reason why things should be 'controlled'. In the real world the option is there to plagiarise (controversial bit no.2), why not give students that option too? And when caught, face the consequences. The suggestion that it wasn't controlled before is a little insulting too. I have caught many cases of plagiarism with coursework. They are dead easy to spot. I even have a (dreaded) PowerPoint that I used to show my students at the start of the course, identifying 13 ways of spotting it and challenging them to take me on if they thought it was worth it! It always made me smile when I read that plagiarism was 'on the increase'. Well how would you know that if it wasn't getting caught?! I'm of the mind to say that if you get past your teacher, moderation and the exam board sample, then good on you for your skill with language and original use of source material. And anyway, CAs don't stop plagiarism for anyone with a half-decent memory.

And then there is this rule that you can't re-draft a Controlled Assignment after receiving advice from your teacher. Why do we want to encourage students to do everything once and hope that it is the best they are capable of? How does that encourage students to stick at something, re-work, develop, work collaboratively and innovate? Is that really the mindset we want to develop in our future workforce?

Well, the first deadline is here now, and I've also done the sums. Most of my Y11s have done: 7 reading CAs, 5 writing CAs, upwards of 10 Speaking and Listening CAs, the Unit 1 exam (and some of them have to do that again), that's over 20 formal assessments in less than 2 years and that makes me feel awful. And that's just English. No wonder we are experiencing 'exam fatigue' in our students - I've bloody got it! The room for enjoying the subject, encouraging a love of reading novels, plays and poetry, expressing creativity through writing is no longer there. If it is, it's timed.

So is there another way?

For my subject, the only way around it I can see at the moment is to enter all students for English GCSE, regardless of ability, and then offer Literature as an iGCSE option. What this would allow schools to do is to spend more time on the core English skills and the qualification that school league tables, employers, colleges and universities are interested in. Then an iGCSE, with coursework, allows you to develop the skills that students will need at A level and beyond - redrafting, research, independence, etc. It does seem strange that most schools still tie the 2 GCSEs together with teachers and timetable (Literature isn't an EBacc subject after all, and English is arguably the most important qualification students take).

This approach also means that you aren't forcing huge amounts of content down the throats of reluctant readers, kids more interested in Maths and Science, or those who are made to do the subject just because they got a Level 4 or 5 in English at KS2. English and Maths are compulsory, but Literature doesn't need to be. I say that about about a subject I love too!

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