Exam results - are they getting easier?

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curly
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Exam results - are they getting easier?

Post by curly »

It seems that 96% of students who sat A levels this year managed to pass, is this a good or a bad sign? The pass rate has gone up over the past 23 consecutive years. It is reported that the element of spelling is irrelevent in anything other than an english language exam - good or bad?
Has teaching and learning improved so much over the past 23 years?
Universities and prospective employers must find it extremely difficult to decide who are the best, the creme de la creme! How can they do this when 96% get a pass?
I read today that an 18.6% correct ratio in mathematics was good enough for a pass rate at GCSE level - good or bad?
Are exams being "dummed down"?


Please discuss.

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Post by Elaine H »

Yes, I definitely believe that there is a "dumbing down" process going on in education today, at least I am pretty certain that that's the case in the USA, and from what you say, it would seem to be the case in the UK too.
When I went to school, you had to have a minimum correct ratio of 45% to pass. Anything below that was an F and you failed.
In the USA, anything below 60% is a failing grade. BUT of course, grades and percentages don't really say much about the true level of education, do they. Everything really depends on how difficult the course material is and what is actually being taught. I mean, a very high number of kids nowadays can't write a coherent sentence, and for heaven's sake, don't ask them to do any arithmetic in their heads!
I think it probably all started when so-called experts decided that it was just WRONG to tell a kid he had failed at anything. I call it the "feel good" syndrome. In the meantime, however, I sometimes wonder whether it has anything to do with the fact that "less knowledgable" people are easier to manage, because they rarely question what is going on around them or what their "leaders" are doing, but simply accept whatever they are being told, and for the most part just do as they are told ?
Whatever the reason is, if we let this "dumbing down" continue, I see us all facing huge problems in the very near future!
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Post by curly »

Lad at work is overjoyed at achieving three A grades; yit his slepping is bliddy tarrable!

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Post by Elaine H »

You know, I think Internet jargon has got a lot to answer for when it comes to spelling. Mind you, when you think about it, maybe spelling isn't really all that important - as long as what you write is understandable and you get your point across. And, of course, languages do evolve over time. You just have to compare "Olde English" with modern English to see that. Still, I am not so sure that the morph from English to whatever you want to call what often passes as English nowadays is necessarily a step forward.
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Post by Jim_in_France »

I remember when there was talk of making the goal mouth wider, as not enough goals were scored in football!!! Just shows (To Me) what a bloody boring game it is! :twisted:
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Post by padlock man »

I forget the precise figures, but the pass rate has gone up from about
68% to 97% in about 25 years.
I find that difficult to credit. You'd expect some improvement; but that much?
I'd like to see some actual exam papers.
And even if the questions are still as hard as years ago, is the marking more generous?
P.S. Why don't they introduce an A level exam on being polite?!

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Post by Alice »

Padlock Man, not many kids would pass that exam the rates would go down dramatically. Now if you said an exam on how to be a charva that would be different. :)

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Post by brian c »

"Obnoxious little ****" would have a 100% pass rate as well.

(Didn't sound too gentlemanly, so Curly edited it)
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Post by sherri »

It is something I have wondered about a lot over the years. Here are some things I have heard and read about it. Firstly, are the results being rigged so more pass. Most likely. My own thought is-If you go back much further-maybe as far as the 40's, very few people got to the end of secondary school-probably only 10% if that, made it through and if they did, they were probably going into medicine or science or had some higher ambition. Nearly everyone else-even some very bright ones-would have been out into work or courses eg nursing.
Nowadays, we have about 90% of children being more or less forced to stay on in schooling. The dilemma. Would the community be happy to see most of them fail? Maybe you just need to give eg an A,B,C,D next to individual subjects rather than a pass or fail of an entire level as such.

Next issue-people in the past were not as literate as you think. Everyone joining the army etc was tested for basic literacy skills. The govt has the results from start of last century onwards. Boer? war? It shows that basic skills have risen and continued to rise right up to Vietnam war. I haven't heard the results released from the latest testing in the last 20 years. Fact is, 100 years or so ago, all a lot of people had to basically do was be able to sign their name. Our expectations have risen.

One thing I heard on a course 2 weeks ago which was interesting. Back in agrarian times, education was not very necessary, it was optional. With the industrial revolution, it became compulsory. Now We are about 20 or 30 years into another revolution, it is the revolution of knowledge and the huge ship of education is trying to turn to sail with it. It takes a ship a while to turn and we are still in the manouvre, but what is hitting all round the world right this minute is a change in attitude to what we need people to be able to do. What is going to be important for your kids is the knowledge and expertise they bring to an area, their problem solving abilities, their creativity, their ability to find the information they need. So the huge change-though you may have trouble quite seeing it yet-is in getting people not just to know facts, but to be able to use facts as a starting point.
How to assess it is what has been occupying folks for the last few years. If you look at the Queensland program called "New Basics", some of the deep assessment tasks are over 2 years.
So... current testing has not caught up with the changes that are happening in education. This will see absolutely revolutionary changes over the next few years and expect some screams from people all over, as it will most likely involve videotaping and closely monitoring people who are in the workforce. What hasn't hit a lot of people yet is that education is an ongoing process for life and jobs are most likely going to be contract and dependent on evidence, not just the qualifications you can pull out of your pocket.
Spelling is still important, don't let anyone kid you it is not. If you are putting in a job application, take care as it is a first impression. But if you are writing a shopping list for yourself, then you don't have to proof read so vigorously.
Spelling is important, grammar is important, but there is also spell check available and I predict within 15 years voice activated computer programs will be much more common. I have dragon 7 myself but it is best for routine applications. They will evolve.
Most of us won't see the end of this revolution as the experts are saying most big educational cycles take about 100 years.

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Post by curly »

sherri wrote:It is something I have wondered about a lot over the years. Here are some things I have heard and read about it. Firstly, are the results being rigged so more pass. Most likely. My own thought is-If you go back much further-maybe as far as the 40's, very few people got to the end of secondary school-probably only 10% if that, made it through and if they did, they were probably going into medicine or science or had some higher ambition. Nearly everyone else-even some very bright ones-would have been out into work or courses eg nursing.
Nowadays, we have about 90% of children being more or less forced to stay on in schooling. The dilemma. Would the community be happy to see most of them fail? Maybe you just need to give eg an A,B,C,D next to individual subjects rather than a pass or fail of an entire level as such.

Next issue-people in the past were not as literate as you think. Everyone joining the army etc was tested for basic literacy skills. The govt has the results from start of last century onwards. Boer? war? It shows that basic skills have risen and continued to rise right up to Vietnam war. I haven't heard the results released from the latest testing in the last 20 years. Fact is, 100 years or so ago, all a lot of people had to basically do was be able to sign their name. Our expectations have risen.

One thing I heard on a course 2 weeks ago which was interesting. Back in agrarian times, education was not very necessary, it was optional. With the industrial revolution, it became compulsory. Now We are about 20 or 30 years into another revolution, it is the revolution of knowledge and the huge ship of education is trying to turn to sail with it. It takes a ship a while to turn and we are still in the manouvre, but what is hitting all round the world right this minute is a change in attitude to what we need people to be able to do. What is going to be important for your kids is the knowledge and expertise they bring to an area, their problem solving abilities, their creativity, their ability to find the information they need. So the huge change-though you may have trouble quite seeing it yet-is in getting people not just to know facts, but to be able to use facts as a starting point.
How to assess it is what has been occupying folks for the last few years. If you look at the Queensland program called "New Basics", some of the deep assessment tasks are over 2 years.
So... current testing has not caught up with the changes that are happening in education. This will see absolutely revolutionary changes over the next few years and expect some screams from people all over, as it will most likely involve videotaping and closely monitoring people who are in the workforce. What hasn't hit a lot of people yet is that education is an ongoing process for life and jobs are most likely going to be contract and dependent on evidence, not just the qualifications you can pull out of your pocket.
Spelling is still important, don't let anyone kid you it is not. If you are putting in a job application, take care as it is a first impression. But if you are writing a shopping list for yourself, then you don't have to proof read so vigorously.
Spelling is important, grammar is important, but there is also spell check available and I predict within 15 years voice activated computer programs will be much more common. I have dragon 7 myself but it is best for routine applications. They will evolve.
Most of us won't see the end of this revolution as the experts are saying most big educational cycles take about 100 years.
This is a really interesting post, but still doesn't answer one of the central questions in my mind, when 96% of pupils manage to pass. How do we expect prospective employers, or universities, to differentiate between the able or unable when making decisions to award places? If everyone passes, then how much does it devalue the qualification?

As a general yardstick, the A level was always used by the central clearing house to allocate places in universities, surely this must become an almost impossible task with such a high pass rate.

My own opinion, and that of a few teachers that I have spoken to in the last 48 hours, is that the emphasis is shifting slowly but surely to quantity, rather than quality. A mask provided to support the arguement that educational standards have improved, that teaching standards have improved (yet one doesn't even need to be a graduate to gain a teaching post these days).

If, as has been accepted, one only needs to gain something like 20% "correctness" to qualify for a "pass", then the arguement that continuous assessment makes up the difference becomes fallacious.

I believe that the standards for achieving a pass ought to be raised, to provide a means of realistically challenging the abilities and thought processes of our pupils, and to reinstate the prestige of the qualification. Unless we challenge our government to do this, then we will move further toward mediocrity and the A levels, and the degrees that will follow, will become totally worthless and disregarded by the business community.

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Post by sherri »

I don't know enough about English exams etc to comment.
If all your testing shows is a pass or a fail then you do have big problems.

Here, children in Year 12 (final high school year) are given an overall score, and even if they pass, that does not gain entry to most courses. It goes on score. So for example, to get into nursing, the score needs to be up in the 80's at the moment.
Scores are not based on assessed needs of the quality of applicant, but on availability of places versus number of applications. So for eg a few years ago when teachers were being sacked and there were no teaching positions available, you could get into a teaching course with a score of 50. Nowadays there is a shortage kicking in (wonder why?) and the necessary score has gone up. To get into medicine you currently need a score of about 99.8% overall.
I would think a lot of these scores will eventually be replaced or supplemented with more specific tests and interviews done by employees. I am starting to see that happen now with a graduate daughter of mine.

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Post by curly »

That sounds sensible, the A level results are graded here, with pass grades A, B, C, D, E. (E was a fail in previous years). No doubt there is a target to reach in order to achieve each grade, however there are more and more passes achieving the A grade!

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Post by mrp »

sherri wrote:I don't know enough about English exams etc to comment.
If all your testing shows is a pass or a fail then you do have big problems.

Here, children in Year 12 (final high school year) are given an overall score, and even if they pass, that does not gain entry to most courses. It goes on score. So for example, to get into nursing, the score needs to be up in the 80's at the moment.
Scores are not based on assessed needs of the quality of applicant, but on availability of places versus number of applications. So for eg a few years ago when teachers were being sacked and there were no teaching positions available, you could get into a teaching course with a score of 50. Nowadays there is a shortage kicking in (wonder why?) and the necessary score has gone up. To get into medicine you currently need a score of about 99.8% overall.
I would think a lot of these scores will eventually be replaced or supplemented with more specific tests and interviews done by employees. I am starting to see that happen now with a graduate daughter of mine.
The sooner the better. Year 11 and 12 are bollocks. If I knew what I wanted to do, I would have gone to TAFE and done a Diploma in Financial services, property valuation and then finished at uni, possibly earlier. In Year 11 and 12 you work so hard to actually learn very little. One semester of university blows it away, and you can get a credit average without trying too hard, but at the same time being graded much harder. The prerequisites quoted in university guides are complete tosh, even in honours mathematics or chemistry, there are bridging courses and the initial unit is taught from the ground up (e.g, what elements are or the Cartesian plane)....

The final years of school should be as to prepare for work, matricualtion or to expand someone's knowledge. All it does is train someone to be able to answer a very narrow scope of questions which are mid semester 1 of first year university. This simply doesn't help the admission process. Hence you need a higher mark to be a primary school teacher than an electrical engineer or a financial analyst. Year 12 marks are no true reflection of university performance or work aptitude.
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Post by Jim_in_France »

Some years ago, I had a girlfriend (common wife) who had a son that lived with us. One morning after leaving for school, to face a day of tests. He ran back into the house in a panic! He said he had forgoten his calculator for his maths test. I began to tell him off for cheating and how it will not help him in the future. Only to be told that in fact, they were ALLOWED to use a calculator in the test. :shock: (He was 13 at the time)

It made me wonder what will happen in their future, if their batteries ever go flat! :?
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Post by Jim_in_France »

And I used to get told off for using my fingers to count!!! :cry:
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Post by mrp »

Yeah, perhaps when you are learning to to do fractions...what's the point of not using a calculator when you use hperbolic trigonometric functions, exeponentials and pi? A BLOODY SLIDE RULE I HEAR YOU SAY?

I don't think it is cheating to use a machine to accurately calculate the volume of a washer or valve...sure I can integrate by the washer or slice method, and no calculator can help you out (unless you use MatLab or MAPLE, in a mid semester test at university - if you can't do calculus or understand the theory, you're buggered anyway) but it is a waste of time to sit down and manually multiply a radius by a ten digit decimal...
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Post by Jerry »

I think people are forgetting that A Levels are taken only by a very small percentage of pupils - about 9% when I was involved. That is a creme-de-la-creme already if you like, and universities and employers should be pleased to get them. Schools, especially public (ie private) schools, dissuade pupils from A level courses they are unlikely to cope with, because they will probably drag down the pass rate, and affect the school's rating.

I believe that the top grade pass-rate at A level is in the 20%-30% range. This is perfectly normal in exams. It means that out of a school's entire yearly intake, only some 2-3% are awarded the top grade at A Level. Does that really seem excessive?

There is also the question about the correlation of someone's A level results with success at university. This is far from automatic.

As for spelling, people in authority have been complaining about this since 1904.

Education isn't filling a bucket, it's lighting a fire. It may seem annoyingly namby-pamby to shy away from the word FAIL, but to be dubbed a school failure as a child has a far-reaching and demoralising effect, even on people who have plenty of non-academic virtues.


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Post by Elaine H »

They don't actually have anything like GCSE's or A-levels here in the USA. They use something called the Grade Point Average or GPA. In other words, you are given a grade for everything you do in a class- ranging from A to F (but omitting E). Tests are given throughout the year - set of course, by the teacher himself. Most of those tests are simply multiple choice - which again is no real indication of a student's true knowledge. I proved that one day by "taking" one of my son's tests and simply randomly picking one of the four possible answers to each question, without even reading the questions. I didn't even know what the questions were let alone the actual answers, and yet I got over 80% correct!
Anyway, to get back to the GPA, an A is worth 4 points, a B is 3 points, a C is 2 points and a D is 1 point , and an F, of course, isn't worth any points at all. You can also get extra points by taking honours or advanced courses. Basically, they then just add up how many points you got in total and divide it by the number of subjects taken over the 4 year high school period. That gives you your so-called GPA. You have to have credits in 24 high school subjects and a cumulative GPA of 2.0 to graduate high school.
In my opinion, it is a very poor and very unfair way to determine a student's abilityor knowledge. It more or less means that your respective teachers are ultimately deciding what grade you get - so if a teacher dislikes you, you could end up with a poorer grade. On the other hand, if you have a particularly good rapport with a certain teacher, you could get a really good grade in his or her class - whether you actually earned that grade or not! Forget to do your homework one day? Your GPA goes down. Did you have a bad day when you had to take a test? Your GPA goes down. Teacher liked that little smiley face you drew on your assignment - your GPA goes up. You get the picture.
It also means that you could be a fantastic student in the arts but a miserable one in sciences, or vice-versa and then, the lower grades you get in your weaker subjects will, of course, bring down your overall GPA. And I don't know how many kids do miserably in one particular year (often happens in 9th or 10th grade, when teens go into their rebelliion phase), but then go on to get good grades again in subsequent years. That one bad year, however, will bring down your final GPA really badly.
Most universities here want a final GPA of at least 3.0, and of course, will accept applicants with higher GPAs first. In addition, if you want to go on to college after leaving school, you have to sit an exam known as the SAT (scholatic assessment test). Colleges and universities will also look at the score you got on that test to decide whether to accept you or not. They look at other things too, like how much community service you did, how many school clubs you participated in, what your outside interests are. And most also require you to write an essay explaining why you want to attend that particular university.
Honestly, it is a really stupid system.
A recent study in Florida has shown that of only 58% of students entering high school actually graduate 4 years later. Of those 58, only 32 go on to college. Then, only 14 of those 32 will actually graduate from college in 6 years, and of those 14, only 8 will find jobs in their chosen fields.
That again indicates to me that the system is not doing a very good job of weeding out those who are really college material and those who are not.

Based on the information you gave Curly, I think the same thing may now be happening in the UK. More and more are getting A-levels so more and more want to go college - but because the quality of the A-level is no longer what it was, it is no longer a true indication of ability. Ultimately, I fear that that will probably lead to colleges having to reduce their standards of education too. Hence we end up with a general dumbing down of the whole population.
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Post by padlock man »

Re calculators: these are fine when it comes to laborious calculations. Who wants to multiply by hand, say, 2768 X 9849? Nevertheless, to really understand maths, you should know how to do it by hand even if you use the calc for convenience.

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Post by Elaine H »

Agree with you about the use of calculators, Padlock.

Jerry, it may be demoralizing to be deemed a failure at school, but to tell kids they are doing just fine, when in fact they are not, is worse for everyone in the long-term. If a failing student is not told that he is failing, then how on earth are you going to get him to put in the effort to actually make the grade? Sooner or later, that kid has to go out into the big bad world and get a job. Do you think an employer is going to consider whether or not it is demoralizing before he sacks someone for not doing the job properly?

And let's face it, we all have our strengths and weaknesses, so apart from the basics, which of course, we all have to learn, shouldn't education should be aimed at exploiting those strengths and building up skills where there are weaknesses? It that were done, we wouldn't have many kids who were deemed failures at all - in fact, only those who refuse to put in any effort whatsoever and who really don't want to learn anything at all would fail, and I honestly believe that that would be a very very small number indeed. Unfortunately, nowadays in education, there seems to be a one size fits all mentality. I believe that that started with the introduction of "comprehensive" schools back in the 70's. Up until then, kids were more or less taught according to their ability.
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