Teacher assessment isn’t the school standards bogeyman

This year’s grades chaos betrayed a lack of faith in teacher assessment, writes Christian Bokhove – and that is a side effect of an accountability system that focuses on results alone
11th September 2020, 12:01am
Teacher Assessment Isn’t The Bogeyman Of School Standards

Share

Teacher assessment isn’t the school standards bogeyman

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/teacher-assessment-isnt-school-standards-bogeyman

August was a tough time to be a teacher in the UK. Not only did teachers have to support students through the chaos of the GCSE, A-level and Scottish Highers results, but - because of the way that those results were eventually decided - they also had to endure a concerted attack on their abilities. They were labelled “too lenient” and “overly optimistic” and even accused of trying to cheat the system because the switch to centre-assessed grades caused an inflation in the results awarded.

By contrast, exams were painted as some kind of panacea.

The insinuation was that schools cannot be trusted to provide accurate assessments of their students’ work. As someone who taught in the Dutch system, it was curious to watch this play out. You see, in the Netherlands, schools are trusted to do exactly that.

“School exams” - the equivalent of, say, the most rigorous mock exams in the UK - are taken across pre-exam years and the exam year itself. Pulled together, the marks for these tests contribute 50 per cent to an individual’s overall mark. The other 50 per cent is dictated by the result of one three-hour central subject exam.

Why, I asked on social media, could a similar hybrid model not be used in the UK? Why the deep suspicion of teacher-led assessment? What I got in reply was a lot of negative stories about coursework and “controlled assessments”; and, indeed, I can understand why such experiences would lead to dismissal of such assessments. But, I asked, what about trusting schools in the way described above? It still seemed an alien concept to many.

Perhaps that’s because there are contextual factors that mean this option is simply more palatable, or possible, in some countries.

For example, one variable is surely the way admissions to further and higher education are organised: the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Education at a Glance report for 2019 shows that some education systems are more selective in terms of how far grades determine admission to HE. The more selection, the higher the stakes of the exam. The higher the stakes, the more people will call for an objective, standardised solution to ranking students.

There are also difference between accountability systems in different countries: the more singular the focus on results, the more likely it is that trust in an individual teacher’s ability to judge a student’s work objectively will waver.

But if you get the culture and systems right, it’s clear that teacher assessment does not have to be this bogeyman of school standards. We know this because having a mix of a final exam and teacher assessment works perfectly fine elsewhere.

So don’t blame the teachers in this whole exams mess - blame the system.

Christian Bokhove is associate professor in mathematics education at the University of Southampton and a specialist in research methodologies

This article originally appeared in the 11 September 2020 issue under the headline “Why can’t we trust teacher assessment?”

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

This is 0 of 1

Now only £1 a month for 3 months

Subscribe for just £1 per month for the next 3 months to get unlimited access to all Tes magazine content. Or register to get 2 articles free per month.

Already registered? Log in

This is 0 of 1

Now only £1 a month for 3 months

Subscribe for just £1 per month for the next 3 months to get unlimited access to all Tes magazine content.