A-levels: what papers don't say

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
Every year we hear the same stories about A-levels getting easier, belittling the efforts of students and their teachers. Four basic points are often missed.

First, the current system of examinations cannot be compared with the largely factual-recall exams of a previous generation. A wider range of skills and abilities are tested; so direct comparisons are not valid.

Second, it is quite possible for results to be getting better because performance is improving. Over the past 20 years, how many track and field records in athletics have improved year on year? When Paula Radcliffe broke the marathon world record, nobody said it was because the marathon was getting easier - it was because of her hard work and effective coaching. So why not the same for A-levels?

Third, with the ASA2 system, modules can be retaken to improve results, and many students do this, hence improving pass rates. This is no different from, say, the driving test. Fail it the first time and you re-take it. The test hasn't got easier, has it?

Finally, many students take four AS subjects in the first year and then drop one or two if they don't do well. Consequently those that go on to take exams at A2 are much more likely to pass, hence the higher pass rates.

Unfortunately, these arguments are never clearly heard amidst the clamour of newspapers and commentators who hanker after some mythical golden age of elite exam success, when A-levels were only for the top 10 per cent or so.

Perhaps they just don't like the idea that for a large number of students, schools and colleges are actually doing very well.

Tim Eldridge Wyvern Gardens Sheffield

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