“Qualifications should qualify you for something, and that something should be further learning.
From this simple idea flows an incisive analysis of our educational assessment system which is showing obvious signs of strain. The A-level crisis in over the summer of 2003 was an early warning signal from a system under intense pressure.
The time has come to ditch our ‘dogmatic commitment’ to the A-level gold standard, and with it the high stakes approach to school assessment which produces exam stress for all involved.
As this report explains, the pressure on educational assessment stems from the multiple demands placed on the system. But attempts to make the assessment system more reliable in the wake of the A-level crisis may have the unintended effect of reducing the validity of test results.
The increasing demands for assessment information range from the government trying to measure overall school performance to parents trying to decide where to send their children.
Notable ‘free riders’ on the assessment system are universities which rely almost entirely on A levels to manage their admissions.
The powerful and often competing demands of these customers for assessment information have reduced the ability of the system to fulfil its primary purpose: assessing students’ learning.
By starting over from this first principle, the author argues for a very different kind of educational assessment system. The amount of external testing would be dramatically reduced, with teachers and even students directly involved in devising and administering assessment.
Testing-on-demand and individual learning pathways would help to create an assessment system which is adaptable enough to equip every student for a lifetime of learning.