Magazine article English Drama Media

'2 (B) or Not 2 (B) ... That Is the Question': Keith Davidson Monitors Micro-Management in the Exam System

Magazine article English Drama Media

'2 (B) or Not 2 (B) ... That Is the Question': Keith Davidson Monitors Micro-Management in the Exam System

Article excerpt

It was on the question, for some reason--not clear--that in 2007 the QCA was minded to intervene at the first stage of the exam process:

7.1 Director of Regulations and Standards, Isabel Nisbet, raised the
issue of QCA taking a more active role in the GCSE and GCE
question paper setting process to ensure that papers are of high
quality, and to ensure that future GCE papers have fewer
structured questions, requiring more extended responses, and
take a synoptic approach. She recommended that 1) the main
way that QCA should ensure the quality of question papers
should be by ensuring that awarding bodies have adequate
quality control systems in place; 2) that awarding bodies should
be asked to use the data available to them [why wouldn't
they?] to ensure the quality of question setting; and 3) that
QCA should carry forward a limited investigation, confined to
[a] very small number of new A level specifications, involving
observation by a QCA consultant before the finalising of
question papers and mark schemes at the question paper
evaluation stage.

7.2 The Board emphasised that the QCA should exercise its
authority to intervene where there is believed to be significant
risk to the standard of question papers and in the start up of
new qualifications, and approved all the recommendations
made.

The assumption seems to be that the QCA could somehow call on quality-control expertise not readily available to the awarding bodies in the first place. But, 'believed to be significant risk'?. If the problems are not evident in the periodic subject scrutinies where did this worry come from--on whose or what say so? Yet no doubt a role being taken over by the newly established independent exam watchdog, Ofqual--Isabel Nisbet now appointed its Acting Chief Executive--with the 'Authority' (QCA) down-sized to a 'Development Agency' (QCDA).

A Passing Fancy

To remind ourselves what the exams are finally for: essentially first-past-thepost systems, the first few past the first posts that is, even as the posts keep moving. Everything is subservient to that end: some scrutiny of some performance, en route and/or at the end of the course, as more or less valid evidence for reliable if simplistic rankings in terms of some assumed underlying subject competence (usurping the classic Chomsky distinction in linguistics).

In the beginning was the reporting of just Pass/Fail according to arbitrary numbers of either marks or candidates. By higher marks/fewer candidates the old School Certificate Pass distinguished further Pass levels of achievement as Credit/Distinction; you needed a clutch of subject Passes to get the Certificate and Credits to get anywhere much. This was to be developed into the range of 'pass' grades of levels of achievement, variously described in general terms, for the GCE, the CSE and GCSE individual subject examinations, with the sub-set of AS grades now supposedly set at a lower level for half the A level examination. Pass/Fail was officially abolished, leaving 'pass' as effectively whatever grade you fancy, starred grade As for cherry pickers at all levels, for instance, and now GCSE grades A*-C to pass/fail schools.

And it doesn't stop there. We have component grades, as if modules comprising subject sections can somehow be graded in the same terms as for the whole subject, and arcane arithmetical conversions to subject marks on the Universal Mark Scale for the final subject grades, presupposing direct comparisons across subjects - but more of that anon. Finally, the microsystems of reporting individuals' and institutions' module and question marks - big business for Pearson/Edexcel's ResultsPlus. …

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