Formal tests for pupils whose exams have been cancelled will be detrimental to them and their teachers, an education expert has warned.
Professor Mark Priestley, who led the probe into this year’s results fiasco, said assessment guidance from the Scottish Qualifications had resulted in schools turning to formal tests.
When he recommended validated assessments for National 5s in his review, he said, “we most certainly did not have in mind a series of externally set but internally assessed pencil and paper tests.”
‘Inevitable’ exams off
This week’s cancellation of 2021 Higher and Advanced Higher exams, following cancellation of National 5 exams in October, was inevitable, he said.
Writing in his blog with fellow Stirling University academic Dr Marina Shapira, he said: “The emerging practices based around formal tests will have detrimental effects: on the workload of the teachers who will end up assessing these additional tests, when study leave no longer exists to free up time; and on the students who will be tested to within an inch of their lives.
“Moreover, there are serious concerns about the validity of these tests; as SQA point out such tests have good predictive ability for exam performance, but one can seriously question their validity for assessing student achievement holistically.”
The emerging practices based around formal tests will have detrimental effects… on the students who will be tested to within an inch of their lives.”
Professor Mark Priestley and Dr Marina Shapira
Quoting Edinburgh University’s Professor Lindsay Paterson that “exams are being replaced by exams”, Prof Priestley said this has been made inevitable to some extent by guidance from the SQA.
The SQA, he said, sought to reduce teacher workload and account for missed study time by removing coursework which in turn reduced the evidence base for continuous assessment.
Prof Priestley made a series of recommendations in his review of this year’s SQA moderation process which saw more than 124,000 downgraded results awarded in August to pupils whose May exams were cancelled revoked.
They included suspension of the National 5 exams next year with awards based on estimates from validated assessments.
An SQA spokesman said that since National 5 exams were cancelled the SQA had chaired the 2021 National Qualifications Group in co-creating an alternative certification model.
He said: “The details of that model were announced by the group earlier this week. Further details will be provided for Higher and Advanced Higher shortly.
“We are asking teachers to assess learning and to report on this against the current criteria as defined in the course specifications for each subject.
“There is more flexibility in the generation of evidence within the classroom-based setting.
“However, teachers and lecturers appreciate that the assessment approach, for this exceptional year, is one that is familiar to them and this will help ensure that national standards can be consistently applied.”
Prof Priestley also said the pandemic has exposed Scottish education’s reliance on exams as a weakness and the opportunity should be grasped to reconsider how schoolchildren are assessed.
Education Secretary John Swinney has already asked the OECD to consider the role of exams in its review of the Curriculum for Excellence.
While some see exams as the gold standard of assessment, Prof Priestley said critics of the system argue they are neither a valid nor reliable assessment tool, and extraneous circumstances could affect performance with possible “life-long consequences” for those sitting them.
He said: “The forthcoming OECD review provides a further opportunity to rethink the way we conduct high-stakes assessment.”