Friday, 20 August 2010

Making the grade...

You know, there's an awful lot of tosh talked about exams, results, standards and qualifications at this time of year. And I'm going to add to the pile this morning by stating a few simple facts which seem to escape most commentators. The first is this: standards aren't falling. Yes I know more people pass these days, but the reason for that is simple. Students are (wait for it) marked on the quality of what they do in the exam these days. I know! Shocking, isn't it? Why, oh why they can't simply be compared to one another as in the good old days of norm referencing? Ok, ok, so sometimes it was a bit unfair. In a good year what might have earned you an 'A' twelve months before might merely scrape a 'B' (or worse) but, hey ho! It's not as if anyone's future depended on it. (Oh, hang on...)

As I've said somewhere before, there used to be a rumour going round that driving test examiners had a quota of those they were allowed to pass each day. No matter that you drove with the skill of the Queen's chauffeur, if the man with the clipboard had reached his quota for the day, you failed. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what 'A' levels were really like.

Second, kids today are told what to write; they're given so much guidance in the exam that even a monkey could write an 'A' grade answer. Well, let's see them try. It's true that the old 'The King of France is bald - discuss' type questions have given way to a more structured interrogation, but so what. You still have to provide the information, and do so accurately. No doubt some mavericks can bake perfect cakes without a recipe, but those who follow the instructions will invariably deliver something just as tasty.

Finally, you don't need to know as much these days to pass. Well, dear reader, this last one is true. Yes, you heard it here first: you don't have to know as much stuff these days as you used to, But you DO have to do a darn site more with what you know than I ever had to (twenty-some years ago). And in a world where information overload is a serious issue, shouldn't skill in processing data be more highly prized?

I'm not saying everything in the garden is rosy. No exam system is perfect. Even the Chinese (who invented this particular academic torture) haven't got it right thousands of years later. But to criticise it for doing the job it was designed to do and belittle the achievement of thousands of hard-working students smacks of sour-grapes. Or worse.

Of course, this annual round of knockers doesn't stop the same papers publishing gratuitous shots of pretty girls clutching their results and leaping for joy. And you'd think after so many years of trying, they'd be able to get it right by now. Standards are clearly slipping. As the website Sexy A Levels (it's not what you think, honest... well, not quite) points out,

The Platonic Ideal for an A-Level Results Day story photograph involves the following in the order named:
1) Blonde…
2) Twins…
3) Going to Oxbridge…
4) Leaping for joy…
5) Holding aloft their results…
6) …But not so high as to obscure a glimpse decolletage.

Seems reasonable enough. So let's judge some of the results shall we?

 Oh dear... not blond - C.

 Clearly not twins - D.

 Blond, but not jumping in the air. And not a twin - C.

A better effort By Sheffield High School, but loses marks for failing to get airborne - C. 

Better luck next year, St Bedes - D. 

And finally, a reasonable effort by the Wirral Globe.
You've got the right idea, but...
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