International grading: ‘Playing fast and loose’ with your child’s education, or raising falling standards?

By Morwenna Evans Tuesday, April 8, 2014

students doing GCSE exams

Maths Doctor’s blog has been following the continued debate surrounding the internationalisation of exam grading. Since Michael Gove’s review of GCSE examinations last year and the publication of the PISA report, English students have increasingly been compared to international counterparts.

This comparison has not been favourable for our students with British learners frequently lagging behind our Singaporean and Chinese counterparts. However, the General Secretary of the largest teacher’s union has criticised this method of assessment, claiming political agendas to be distorting the assessment reasoning.

A recent article took a look into proposed changes to exam assessment:

“The new system would see tougher GCSEs and a numbered scale to replace the current lettered grades. The 12-week consultation runs until June 30, but reactions from professionals have been mixed.

Ofqual has proposed to align the new grade 4 to the old grade C, with 9 being the highest grade. The idea of making 5, the pass mark, international benchmarked against the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests, has been widely criticised.

The Pisa tests are taken by 15-year-olds in selected countries to give a general picture of their abilities. Pisa assesses students in mathematics, reading and science, but does not test their knowledge of a particular curriculum, meaning schools do not teach in preparation of Pisa – rather, they assess the intellectual and analytical level pupils are at when they approach the end of education.

Some professionals have criticised Pisa tests, arguing it is impossible to draw conclusions about a country’s education system from the results of these tests. The last results showed England fall out of the top 20 and behind Asian countries, although China only entered two of its jurisdictions, Hong Kong and Shanghai, which do not provide a representative sample of the country’s students.

Siôn Humphreys, policy advisor at the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed the proposal for a national reference test and the consultation into reforming GCSEs, which he says have needed fixing for a long time.

The largest teachers’ union, NASUWT, expressed concern at what they described as ‘further confusion’ for parents, teachers and pupils. Chris Keates, General Secretary of teacher’s union NASUWT, said the announcement was in line with the Government’s consistent portrayal of GCSEs as 'broken' and 'dumbed down’, and criticized the idea to compare the results of pupils in England with those of pupils in China.

Keates said: “The move to align GCSE gradings to PISA ignores the fact that the two systems are designed for very different purposes. This is yet another example of the Coalition Government playing fast and loose with international data for political purposes’

What do you think? Is an international awarding system the right fit for your child? Or should the grading system be more relative to individual learners and their environment?