Exam results - are they getting easier?

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brian c
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Post by brian c »

Many years ago when I was learning to be an engineer we had to do every calculation by hand, we couldn't even use a sliderule, which was only one step up from an abbacus.

In those days the pass rate was about 45%

Still---- Stephenson said I'd done well to pass.
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sherri
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Post by sherri »

If it is of any interest, I just finished reading a study that looked at IQ levels and found that they did not correlate as well as you would think with success in life. In fact, many who had been shown to be middle range IQ had actually gone on to rise further in their chosen professions.

A lot of the 'household names' in industry etc were never top of the class. The study went on to wonder why and the conclusion was it takes more than just brain power, it takes wider skills such as problem solving and initiative and probably what we might call 'street smarts'.

In my final year of school, I could have drawn you up a list with every student in that class more or less ranked in academic ability from top to bottom (I was not in a huge school-there were about 35 of us only in the final year).
Years later at the 20 year reunion, where those people had been in Year 12 didn't reflect where they were 'at ', except for a couple. Our top student is now a dean at uni (predictable she would have been something like that) There were 2 there though who had been average ability only and I am fairly sure IQ wise were still the same, but sheer effort and verve had got them a long way.
MrP is right in that education should be training people how to think, not just to answer a narrow range of questions.
I don't think it is cheating to use a calculator for involved calculations.
If you saw a copy of someof the tests from eg 80 years ago, you would realise a lot of the stuff tested was totally irrelevant to anything. Things change and life moves on and so does testing have to move on.
There is a big dependence on stats now to assess learning and teachers have to moderate results here. Simply liking a student should not be able to push up their score, because of the checks and balances.

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Post by Infectedmushroom »

well i read the first post and am far too lazy to read the rest so I will just blab on as per usual about something that is probably totally irrelevant at this stage of the topic.

I don't know how many people used to go on to study higher education, but i bet it was a fair bit less back in "the olden days."

Even if people go on to do A-levels and then dont follow it up with degrees at uni or whatever, in my view, the longer the time spent in education the better.

So maybes exams have changed a bit. I would'nt say they are easier, but they have adapted to a new generation with a completely different way of thinking. Kids that have e-mail, mobile phones and other brilliant technology that is changing the way the world works in an exponential manner.

Hmm. I've had a bit too much coffee i think im being very pretentious. What i MEAN to say is:

Wey nar man, thuz are just different tu what yees used tu do.
cos the worlds changed n that. Like.
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Post by Jerry »

Elaine, I wholly agree about equal esteem for all, and of course, children know where they stand academicallyanyway.

The comprehensive system is used in Australia, New Zealand, Canada; the USA, Japan; the whole of Scandinavia, the whole of Eastern Europe; Ireland, Greece, Spain, Italy. etc. The best French schools are/have been comprehensive. Some of these countries are held up as shining examples of educational practice. Why do we keep using this as a political football?

'One size fits all' is a handy derogatory slogan, but it's not like that in practice. Though all the children are under the same roof (WITH THEIR FRIENDS), they are only taught together in non-academic subjects, like PE, art or music.

They are streamed for maths, sciences and languages to name but three.I taught English with an unstreamed class because a lot of English work e.g. drama is best done with a mixed ability class, and working in small unintimidating groups tends to encorage the imagination. Provided you have proper teaching materials, and don't mind feeling like a dishrag at the end of the day, it's a rewarding life.

I've taught in a grammar school, too and I prefer comprehensives, particularly because of the benefits I saw on working-class middle-school girls in terms of self-esteem and aspiration - things they would pass on to their children.

But that was then. They may stream for English too nowadays for all I know. The comprehensive system had a great deal of support from middle-class parents (yes, marching in the streets) when it was introduced in England because eight out of ten children didn't get a grammar school place under the old 11+ system, and two-thirds of THOSE WHO DID were working-class kids.


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Last edited by Jerry on Mon Aug 22, 2005 12:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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brian c
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Post by brian c »

Many years ago when I was learning to be an engineer we had to do every calculation by hand, we couldn't even use a sliderule, which was only one step up from an abbacus.

In those days the pass rate was about 45%

Still---- Stephenson said I'd done well to pass.
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STUPID YOU ARE.................

BREED YOU SHOULD NOT!

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Post by curly »

Sherri said;

"MrP is right in that education should be training people how to think, not just to answer a narrow range of questions."

This reminds me very much about my time at school, many years ago (South Shields Grammar Technical School for Boys). There was a chasm of difference in the type of education given for O level or CSE subjects, and that given for A level subjects.
At the lower level, one was required to absorb information and facts, like a sponge, and be prepared to ring it all out onto the exam paper. At the higher A level, one needed to be taught how to think, argue, discuss, theorise, prove and disprove, using the known facts and consensus. The exam papers were not question and answer sessions, they always required a long written essay which provided you the opportunity to display your new skills in arguing and thinking.

I don't know if the format is still the same or similar, I'd be interested in hearing from someone currently in the education system here, either a student or a teacher.

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Post by Infectedmushroom »

why do we have to do calculations by hand. the whole world uses calculators and super speedy ganzalez type computers now. As long as we understand the process, we shouldnt have to constantly use mental arithmetic to put it into practice.
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Post by little_tata »

Every year, it's the same...

"Are exams getting easier?"

"Pass rates higher than ever"

It seems to me that as a teacher, they can't win.

If a student works hard, and gains a damn good pass at A level, then, for some reason, its' not their own hard work which has earned their result, but an "easier" exam they sat, or the marking criteria was not as stringent as it used to be in the "good old days".

Now, if say next year, the examination board decides to make the marking criteria harder, and their are more students failing, many people will be shouting at teachers saying that they are not teaching the students what they need to know in order to gain a decent pass level.

The general public are never pleased when students (of any age) do well.

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Post by curly »

No, don't get me wrong, I've never suggested that there is evidence of dumbing down, I'm only asking the question;

"If more and more pupils are passing with A grades, how can universities or prospective employers tell which ones have done well, and which ones have done really, and which ones have excelled?"

Unfortunately in the big bad world out there, we have to make hard choices, and these results only serve to make it more difficult for us.

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Post by padlock man »

Why do you hear these horror stories about universities finding that the students they've accepted are functionally illiterate?
(And employers finding the same about school leavers?)

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Post by mrp »

Because it is easier than being a real journalist.
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Post by curly »

The lad who I referred to earlier (got three A grades) cannot spell, and that is a fact!

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Post by Elaine H »

I certainly agree with Sherri, that academic ability is not an indicator of future success. It takes drive, ambition, and passion to succeed in any field - and I think that circumstances and luck play a considerable roll too - like being in the right place at the right time.
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Post by brian c »

On the news today the CBI are saying that most school leavers cannot read, write and addup properly.

The government are saying more people are passing exams.

Somebody is telling porkies.
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Post by Jerry »

Brian, the CBI (or about half the firms surveyed) are not saying that most school leavers are deficient in literacy and/or numeracy. They are saying that they find the standard is unsatisfactory among young people applying to THEM. Not the same thing.


This is a hardy perennial anyway, and usually appears when the exam results come out in August, when news is scarce.

A bit of history:

... there are millions of children in this country who from their babyhood up to the age of fourteen are drilled in reading, writing and arithmetic upon a system the result of which is that when they attain the age of thirteen or fourteen and are finally dismissed from school, they can neither read, nor write, nor cipher.

1904 (Sir John Gorst, Secretary to the Board of Education)


... it is a fact that the average boy and girl on leaving school is unable to write English with clearness and fluency or any degree of grammatical accuracy.

1912 (Conference of Engineering Association)

1912 the Times commented that most people, even educated ones couldn’t spell, adding that this didn’t matter much. It reported the comments of a headmaster that reading standards were falling because parents no longer read to their children, and too much time was spent listening to the gramophone.

In 1921 the Newbolt Report said pupils couldn’t spell or punctuate.

... it has been said that accuracy in the manipulation of figures does not reach the same standard which was reached twenty years ago.

1925 (Board of Education)



In 1925 School Inspectors reported that pupils ‘were far inferior to the previous generation... even the most intelligent have glaring faults, letters badly written, badly spelled, sums generally wrong‘.

In 1938 the Spens Report dealing with the top 13% who went to grammar chool found: ‘Many pupils pass through grammar school, and even university, without the capacity to express themselves in English.’

In 1943 the Norwood Report pointed to falling standards in English and blamed the schools.


In 1969 the first Black Paper complained of falling standards in reading, writing, spelling and maths. It blamed comprehensive schools.


So there you are. Standards which were abysmal in 1904 have been falling for a hundred years. The CBI are just following a tradition.

* The 2005 OECD survey found that Britain is in third place after Netherlands and Sweden for primary literacy, while in secondary schools we hold second place after fully-comprehensive Finland.

Stay cool. And get behind your teachers.


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Post by Elaine H »

However, let's not forget, that the OECD (PISA) results are based on standardized, mutiple choice-type tests, which do NOT, in my opinion, give a really true picture of student understanding or ability. How many kids didn't really know some of the answers but made correct guesses? As I said before, I "christmas treed" a standardized test, i.e. I just randomly selected answers without even reading the questions, and I got 80% correct!
We have lots of these standardized tests here in the USA. The problem that has arisen here, is that teachers are now having to spend more and more time teaching the kids how to take and pass these tests than they are on giving the kids an all-round, well-balanced education - and this is contributing to the dumbing down process.
As Curly said, in our day, we had to write long essays in which we basically demonstrated our understanding and knowledge of a subject and how to properly apply it. Those essays, of course, showed not only our understanding of the subject matter but also our command of the English language.
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Post by Elaine H »

Oh, I forgot to mention that while in high school, my son of course had to write some essays - BUT, were they ever corrected for grammar or spelling? I'm sorry to say that they were not. Nor was he ever required to redo a problem in maths or science or whatever, that he may have gotten wrong the first time around.
I remember that when I was at school, part of our homework every day was to correct any mistakes we had made in previous assignments, no matter what the subject was! As a kid, I naturally found that to be a pain in the proverbial, but I certainly know now how important that was and how much I actually benefitted from it.
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Post by sherri »

Spot on, Elaine.
Back when I sat my final school year, all exams were statewide and marked independently by 2 outside sources -usually from a uni.
Must have been a big job marking essays etc
Results took a month to be published.
The present testing in AIM in years 3 and 5 relies heavily on multiple choice and a special way of marking the papers, so that most can be marked via computer.
This is not the case in Year 12 I know.
Accurate assessment is a huge issue.

As for standards-I think most people have a halcyon view of their own childhood and what things were like and it does not always square with reality. Not everyone 20, 40, 60 years ago was great at spelling, punctuation and grammar.

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Post by Elaine H »

Sherri, I don't think anyone is suggesting that everyone was great at spelling, punctuation and grammar - but I do think that more emphasis was placed on them in the past than is the case nowadays - at least in the USA. I am basing this on my own experiences, both as a parent of a teen who has just graduated high school and as a school volunteer, where I have quite an insight into how schools (or our local school at least) work these days.
I actually kept a lot of my high school stuff, and when I compare what we did with the assignments that my son had to do, I must say that we were years ahead in most subjects. Stuff that I did in the 9th grade, my son didn't do until 11th or even 12th grade - and some of the stuff I did in the 12th, my son will only do in his first years at college! That is where I deduce that there has been a dumbing down over the years. Of course, it is difficult for me to make a real comparison since I was educated in the UK and not in the USA. However, other parents that I talk to, who were educated in the USA, tend to confirm this too.
As I see it, this "dumbing down", or whatever you choose to call it, has led to yet another problem: Many really intelligent kids are simply bored out of their minds in school because they are not being challenged enough. And let's face it, a bored teen, no matter how intelligent he or she may be, will generally not do well in school.
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Post by curly »

Elaine H said "As I see it, this "dumbing down", or whatever you choose to call it, has led to yet another problem: Many really intelligent kids are simply bored out of their minds in school because they are not being challenged enough. And let's face it, a bored teen, no matter how intelligent he or she may be, will generally not do well in school."

Never a more accurate description of the problems encapsulated in comprehensive education. Target = mediocrity! (Sorry I meant "standardised")

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