Friday, 10 August 2007

Why exam begrudgery is misplaced

Peter Wilby has a good piece in today's Guardian, arguing that comparability between exams from one year to the next is impossible because of their changing nature. To a certain extent this is true. What is studied in physics today is not what was studied thirty years ago, because we know more about physics. Equally, there are subjects that are more popular now, and aspects of study that are too. It is true that, particularly with A-levels, we expect exams to act as a sorting facility, hence Alan Johnson's embrace of the A* at A-level. But it is also true that - with the exception perhaps of the year or two immediately after the changes in A-levels and O-levels - there has been a genuine improvement in standards in state schools, and this has been reflected in the results. Why so? Mainly because improvements are not evenly spread. Over the last ten years, for example, improvements have been fastest in those schools and inner city areas that have done most to tackle low standards. And as Wilby rightly points, IQ rates have been rising across the industrialised world. Even the greatest exam begrudgers wouldn't want to argue that such improvements have not been reflected here. For an excellent analysis of all the issues, it is also worth reading Andrew Adonis's speech from the last exam season but one.

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