The story about the biology exam that ‘didn’t ask what the students had learned’ doesn’t really seem to have been taken up much, but it is perhaps a worthwhile story. At first, it seemed another cock-up story: kids get taught one thing, exam asks different thing. We could all be forgiven for thinking that considering all the other establishment cock-ups of recent times.
Once I’d seen the two bods from the exam board on Breakfast yesterday morning however, it seemed that something altogether different was the case. Apparently, they said, the paper tested on the principles the students were supposed to have learned but required them to apply those principles to cases they hadn’t seen before (shrews). Casts an altogether different light on it, doesn’t it?
[The AQA] said the new exam focussed more on the application of science following criticism that previous papers had failed to stretch pupils’ scientific knowledge enough.
These were A-Level exam papers. When I left school back in the far-off days of 1996, that was what my GCSE papers did. I didn’t stay on for A-Level but I can only assume that was what those papers did too. I certainly wouldn’t have been phased if I’d learned about the principles of population in, say, rats, and my exam had given me a few facts about moles and then expected me to apply those principles to mole populations. We had to do something that’s probably seen as quite old-fashioned nowadays: thinking.
So it would seem that this is quite an indictment on modern teaching methods, or more specifically ‘Teach To The Test’ as thousands of students, once confronted with something unfamiliar (and yet using the same principles as the examples used in their lessons) couldn’t answer the questions. The exam board was responding to criticism, remember, so you’d now expect lessons to be learned, right? These unfortunate students haven’t been taught properly, and for once an exam has highlighted this so we are in for a review of teaching methods to ensure future students can apply their knowledge properly, right?
The exams watchdog has stepped into the row over an A-level biology paper which led to thousands of students launching a Facebook protest against the exam board AQA for setting questions they felt were unfair.
Ofqual, the newly created independent exams regulator, has ordered the exam board to submit a report on the controversy.
Hmmm… Maybe the new QUANGO will demand that teaching methods return to imparting knowledge and reasoning to students in future so that they can pass these kinds of exams again. Or maybe they will demand that these kinds of exams don’t see the light of day again, to keep the tractor stats looking good. We’ll just have to wait and see…