The A-Level Is Not Dumbed Down; as Doubts over 'Grade Inflation' Grow, the Minister Responsible for Schools Standards Says His Critics Are out of Date and Wrong

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID MILIBAND

by DAVID MILIBAND, Minister of State for School Standards

"The General Certificate Rivals the Derby for Uncertain Results."

WE'VE all seen the headlines about exams getting easier - except the one above, which is from the Daily Mail in 1952. The accompanying article said that the introduction of the A-level would lead to a terrible dilution of standards.

Last week young people got their A-level results. This week it is GCSEs. Yet the arguments never change. Young people and their teachers work hard - and then have buckets of cold water poured over their heads by selfappointed experts who claim the grades ref lect easier exams.

Last year Iain Duncan Smith insulted pupils and teachers when he said A-level exams were not worth the paper they are written on. Yesterday's Evening Standard repeated the charge in an editorial. The news that Cambridge is to use an entrance exam for medicine has also been used to allege, falsely, that A-levels are "too easy".

No evidence is ever offered.

The critics simply assert that "something must be wrong".

However, the facts show the opposite is true.

Ofsted, the independent schools' inspectorate, reports that teaching standards have never been higher, with teacher trainees better than ever.

There are 25,000 more teachers and 80,000 more classroom assistants than six years ago.

If Ofsted said that there were fewer teachers, of lower standard, and exam results were falling, then people would blame poor teaching. So why don't teachers and pupils get credit when it is due?

RIGHTLY, three international studies have been used to investigate whether there is evidence that standards have fallen. Yet they have found none.

There is independent corroboration of what exam results tell us.

International studies place our children higher and higher in terms of their achievement. The tests are done without preparation - so no allegations of "teaching to the test" here.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study of nine and 10-year-olds reports that they are the third best in the world in reading.

The Programme for International Student Assessment study of English, maths and science achievement by 15-year-olds around the world puts us among the highest performers.

So the truth is that, far from standards falling, they are rising because of better teaching and learning. Why then, in the face of all the evidence, do the critics still argue that standards are falling?

Part of it is prejudice. It has been the same at every stage of our country's progress. The critics argued 100 years ago that universal education would be wasted on the poor.

In the 1950s and 1960s they said degrees would be devalued if more people went to university.

There is also a philosophical divide. This is the argument that you can only judge the standard of an exam by how many people fail. This is like saying that the quality of marathon runners is judged by how many people fail to complete the course, not the speed of the runners who do. …