More and more I am questioning the value of examinations, most especially for Year 7 & 8 students. This questioning stems from the fact that our school is moving towards “connected learning approaches” in Year 7 next year. Furthermore, our teachers are pursuing and embracing an inquiry based approach to learning which will increasingly result in students taking more responsibility for their learning. In 2012, we adopted mixed ability classes in Year 7, a decision based on research, and we are now asking should this be the case for both Year 7 and Year 8 for 2013?
Last week, we had exams in the areas of English, Maths, Science and HSIE for year 7 to 10. (As an aside, why was it that only 4 of the 8 KLAs had examinations? Hhhmmm!). As a result of “Exam Week”, the day to day of schooling changed in the following ways:
· Bell times had to be altered so specifically timed exams could be implemented for the week.
· The Hall became a revolving examination centre with different year groups sitting different exams at different times for different subjects.
· When not sitting exams, during ‘normal class time’ students were given “study time” teachers. I must admit, I have done exactly the same in the past!
· Teachers were seen to be marking while the students were studying for their next exam. Again, I have done exactly the same in the past!
· 14 students went home sick from school during the week. This is an abnormally high number.
It probably changes in a whole lot of others ways for many, the above is just a snapshot. The above reflects the reality of many schools, but does is reflect a sound learning environment? I understand a sound learning environment to be one which:
· provides students with greater autonomy and choice of subject matter and pace of study;
· involves students in more decision‐making processes;
· requires extensive use of digital technologies; and,
· results in memorable experiences where students ‘learn by doing’ with relevance to the real world.
Are these characteristics associated with examinations blocks? I think not!
I know some people will push the line that students need to start early to prepare for the HSC (which not all students will do), to get an ATAR (not all those who sit the HSC will pursue an ATAR), to go to university (not all students who attain an ATAR will commence university). So, how important is it for students to sit exams?
Over the next week, I am sure that, on more than one occasion a student will say, “We’ve done the exams, why do we have to do this work?” This thinking probably explains why some schools ‘make them work right up until the end’ and have students sit exams at the very end of the semester/year. (Again, I have worked in one school which does this, and know other schools who continue to do this). Students finish a semester/year with the examination block as their last learning experience for the year. Then, when they drift off into holidays, teachers mark exams, collate the marks with others assessments, write reports and then send the reports home. Where was the feedback for students? Doesn’t Hattie say something about the importance of feedback? If there is no feedback to students, why was it important for students to sit the exam in the first place?
With my unsettledness about exams resonating loudly within, I was pleased to read these minutes from a recent faulty meeting which read, “Discussion on the future value of end-of-year exams. Do they still serve a purpose? We have used assessment marks to grade students into classes but is that still valid if classes are becoming more mixed ability (Year 7/8)? What is the purpose of exams from the student’s point of view i.e. do they prepare for it; what is the point of school after the exams are over in week 6? Are there other ways to assess?”
I leave you with those questions and seek answers from you, or more questions of course!