Call to reformtest of talent

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Up to a third of 14-year-olds are given the wrong grade in key stage science tests every year, the Association for Science Education was told yesterday.

Paul Black, emeritus professor of science education at King's college London, said that the short tests did not allow pupils to demonstrate a real understanding of the subject.

He said that the levels awarded were often determined by how pupils felt on the day and which questions were included.

Professor Black used his keynote address to call for radical changes to the way science is taught and assessed. He also suggested that there should be less emphasis on testing pupils' factual knowledge.

He said the testing regime, combined with pressure to boost schools' league table position, has ultimately led to "teachers teaching in a way they are not proud of".

"There is nothing wrong with teaching to the tests as long as the tests are good ones," he said. "The problem is teachers do not believe these tests are valid."

He estimates that about 30 per cent of pupils each year are awarded the wrong level in key stage 3 tests. In contrast, fewer GCSE students are given the wrong grade because the examination takes longer than the tests, he said.

Professor Black said GCSE grading could be improved by reducing the reliance on short questions which test recall of content rather than deeper understanding.

Pupils should be assessed by looking at a portfolio of their work, which could include longer projects more capable of demonstrating their ability to understand complex arguments about scientific issues, he said.

His comments come as exam boards work on new GCSE syllabuses with greater focus on investigation and ethical issues which will, they hope, persuade more pupils to continue with science post-16.

Exam boards will publish details of the changes in March but some fear that while they will follow the letter of the QCA's instructions, they will fail to embrace the spirit of reform.

Professor Black said teachers should hold fewer question and answer sessions and be more willing to involve pupils in discussions about ethical scientific issues so that they learn about the real world.

But pressure to achieve test results means that teachers will only change their pedagogy if there is a parallel change in the way pupils are assessed.

Exam methods do not allow pupils to demonstrate their understanding of ethical issues or to show a talent for scientific investigation, he said.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today