Exams remain 'best way' to guarantee standards, experts say

Exams remain 'best way' to guarantee standards, experts say
Pupils sitting examsimage sourcePA Media
The commission says coursework is important but exams are the best way to guarantee standards

Anonymously-marked exam papers are still the best way of guaranteeing consistent standards in schools, according to a group of experts.

The matter has been under close scrutiny since the last two exam diets were scrapped because of the pandemic.

The Scottish government is due to make a decision this month on whether next year's exams will go ahead.

The Commission on School Reform said coursework was important but exams avoided any unintentional bias.

The group, set up by the think-tank Reform Scotland, also said that with an exam system results are equitable between different social groups.

In its paper entitled Exams - Do We Need Them?, it said that in a system based only on teacher judgement there may be unintentional bias by teachers for or against certain social groups, such as a "halo effect" around affluent pupils who had previously performed well.

Dr Keir Bloomer, who led the study, said: "Examinations are not good at everything. Coursework can assess skills and understanding that examinations cannot.

"However, the experience of exam cancellations over the last couple of years tells us all we need to know about the important role that exams play in ensuring quality, consistent marking, and equity across the social divide."

He said exams tested memory and focus, and taught young people how to consolidate knowledge over short periods of time, which he said were "important and useful skills for life and work".

'Hybrid model'

Mr Bloomer added: "Furthermore, anonymous marking is effectively insurance against the sort of rapid grade inflation that ultimately only ends when every pupil returns straight As, which would do no favours to either individual pupils or the country as a whole.

"If Scotland were to scrap exams altogether, as some wish, it would put us out of step with the rest of the world, which increasingly relies on a hybrid model of coursework and exams.

"That should be our future, too."

In December last year, the International Council of Education Advisers recommended scrapping "out of date" high school examinations and replacing them with continuous assessment.

It said the pandemic had exposed the underlying problems with exams such as National 5, Highers and Advanced Highers.

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