Monday, August 15, 2005

Better Results on Easier Tests - the New Education Standard

Britain's Labor government was all set to trumpet the results of nationwide standardized tests of high schoolers, which are expected to show yet another yearly increase in the percentage of students scoring at the highest level, the A-standard. Tony Blair had made education a priority and the anticipated results would have made for a lovely talking point on news shows. Unfortunately, the government's glee has been marred by an independent think tank which studied the standardized test and concluded that the scores are going up because the test is getting easier.
Nearly half the public and 43 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds believe that the exam is easier to pass, compared with only 10 per cent who say it has got harder, according to the report by Reform, an independent think tank.

Head teachers insisted yesterday that their pupils were reaching as high a standard as in previous years but admitted that the Government's changes to the exam format - which includes the opportunity to resit papers - had made it easier to do well.

The furore over the results, which will be announced on Thursday, took the exam boards by surprise. They had hoped to head off any criticism of the expected increase in pass rates and A- grades by delaying publication of the statistics until after students had collected their results.

Sources confirmed over the weekend, however, that the results will show a 16th successive increase in the proportion of subject entries awarded an A-grade. It is expected to hit 23 per cent, or nearly one in four. The pass rate is also predicted to show an increase on last year's 96 per cent.
The practice of "dumbing down" an exam to insure more politically acceptable results is hardly new in public education. It has been common practice in American public schools for the last three decades.
The report by Reform looks at attempts by academics to determine whether the A-level standard has been maintained over the years. It concludes that evidence clearly suggests that the exam has become easier, even when the content has remained similar.

It compares the A-level pass rate, which has gone up from 81 per cent in l993 to 96 per cent last year, with that of the International Baccalaureate, which has hovered between 81 and 84 per cent.

"Students' abilities have improved but by far less than that implied by the official statistics," the report concludes. It traces the start of the decline in standards to 1988 when the Department for Education took over responsibility for regulating exams.

"In addition, since the early 1990s the department has taken responsibility for increasing the number of students passing public examinations. The result is a clear conflict of interest and a structure in which the department has a clear incentive to allow standards to fall," it says.

Among the studies it cites are monitoring reports from the Curriculum Evaluation and Management Centre of Durham University, which found that pupils of the same ability achieved between one and a half and three grades higher in 2004 than they would have done in l988. "A student achieving a grade E in mathematics in l988 would achieve a grade B now," said the Reform study.
Naturally, the British government denies the allegations in the Reform report, and maliciously attributes sinister motives to the think tank.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "What the evidence shows is that standards are being maintained. Indeed, it's not the grades that have been dumbed down, but the arguments of those who want to hold children back."
The only people "holding children back" are those public officials who have consistently lowered educational standards in order to disguise the lousy quality of modern public education, and cover their own lazy posteriors. No child's interest is advanced by being rewarded with a grade he or she didn't earn. No child profits by emerging from school less educated than his or her parents were when they graduated. And certainly the British nation as a whole gains no reward from having its educational standards lowered to comply with politically correct ideas as to how students should fare, as opposed to rigorous standards regarding how they actually perform. Modern public education, left in the hands of politicians and appointed bureaucrats, has eschewed unpleasant realities for more appealing delusions. But reality can't be ignored for very long. The consequences of "dumbing down" education will manifest themselves as today's school children enter the workforce and assume positions of power in the nation. Then, Britain will discover the true value of all those phony A-standard grades. Of course, by then the people responsible for the mess will be safely retired or dead.


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