Tag Archives: certification

Thoughts on SQA Exams & Certification⤴

from @ stuckwithphysics.co.uk

In response to a discussion about assessment on the IOP Sputnik email forum for Scottish Physics teachers, I posted some thoughts on what the SQA could do differently. Some replies to the post suggested I should share these ideas further.

It's a bit 'sassy' in places, as one of the replies put it, but here's the post, sass and all -

Alasdair replied to an earlier post saying ' If only the SQA had a big bank of questions in single page word format, say 20 for each key area, and some kind of random test generator software. '
At the risk of this opening a can of worms and with apologies to anyone who has ever had this discussion with me in the past...

If the SQA had a bank of questions they could relatively easily use it to automatically generate unique assessments that candidates could complete entirely electronically, that could be marked, totalled and graded automatically, either as individual key areas/units or as a full course assessment. Any such system could probably automatically certificate the candidate at the appropriate level, and award tariff points too. And if such a system were live all year round, candidates could learn at their own pace, within reasonable bounds, and choose the date and time that they took the assessment. Dare I say it, a bit like a driving theory test...

Such a system might also allow candidates a number of attempts at an assessment, until they achieve a pass (perhaps with a period of time between to consolidate and revise), rather than writing them off after two attempts. A bit like a... oh, you're there already...
For those candidates who *need* an exam grade for Uni entry (they could just do their own entry exams), or those so ingrained in the 'exams are the only thing of any importance' culture that pervades all discussions of education, there is no reason why terminal exams could be not be continued - perhaps with those candidates gaining extra tariff points for the additional attainment. A bit like a driving licence awarded after a practical test...
Granted, schools would need to verify the identities of the candidates attempting assessments (so their big cousin isn't doing it), have a dedicated suite of PCs on which these assessments could be done where online access is limited to only the assessment site, and have a reliable internet connection with sufficient bandwidth. A bit like those places where you do your ..., oh, and again...
These arrangements would require a significant investment, but might go some way to allowing all candidates to achieve at a level that is appropriate to their abilities. There's every chance they could contribute to reducing the attainment gap (if not the poverty that causes most of it) and no doubt whatsoever that they would significantly reduce teacher workload.
If only the SQA had such a bank of questions...
And if they do, then why aren't we doing things better by our kids and for ourselves?
Comments, as ever, are very welcome.

How we could reform assessment and certification⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

[Originally published on stuckwithphysics.co.uk on 5th November 2015] In my recent post ‘Why we need to reform assessment‘, I outlined a number of issues which give me concern over the assessment of SQA National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, introduced as part of the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence. Whilst there may be many […]

How we could reform assessment and certification⤴

from @ stuckwithphysics.co.uk

In my recent post 'Why we need to reform assessment', I outlined a number of issues which give me concern over the assessment of SQA National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, introduced as part of the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence.

Whilst there may be many teachers who would wish for a return to the simpler assessment arrangements of the Intermediate 1 & 2, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications of the 'Higher Still' era, which have been replaced by the CfE courses, I feel that one of the major shortcomings of CfE is its failure in doing anything to fundamentally change the nature or the purpose of assessment.

The new system, as with all of its predecessors, places almost the entire value of the certified qualifications on the terminal summative assessment of the course - the exam. Though some courses have significant elements of coursework, and many include an extended project or research task, still the majority of what our students, schools and staff are judged upon happens in a narrow time frame of a few hours at the end of almost an entire year of study. The results of these high stakes assessments supersede those for the individual unit assessments completed during the courses studied, rendering them effectively worthless.

In addition to this, there is the issue of the complexity involved in marking and recording the results of the unit assessments (which I outlined in 'Why we need to reform assessment') which makes it difficult for students to understand whether they have passed units or not and increases the administrative burden on teachers.

In order to overcome these issues I propose the following changes to the methods of assessment and certification.

Unit Assessment via online e-Assessment

The SQA currently makes use of its own system for online e-Assessment, SQA Solar, for a range of courses across Nationals, Higher, HNC etc. Centres and candidates have unique, secure logins ensuring security of the assessment, and the system allows assessments to be scheduled at a time when the student is ready to be assessed.

This system could be expanded to incorporate all unit assessments in all subjects at all levels, and could be set up so that students performance could be recorded against the many individual criteria necessary to achieve a pass in a given unit. Any reassessment required could automatically be tailored to the specific areas not achieved at the first attempt. Given a sufficiently large bank of assessment items, or a sufficiently adaptable format, allowing numerical data to change for calculation-based questions (as it does on Heriot-Watt University's Scholar VLE), it might be possible for students to make multiple attempts at assessments until the required standard is reached.

As the system is fully automated, this would free up teachers' time for teaching and supporting their students learning, rather than using it for the bureaucratic administration of data. It would also reduce the 'data chase' required to ensure that SQA data is kept up to date on school MIS systems for transfer to SQA systems.

'Points' allocation and certification for internally assessed components -

Most courses have individual unit assessments which must be passed by students in order for them to achieve a grade in the final examination. Although these unit passes are included on students' certificates, there is no explicit value placed upon them in comparison to the exam grade achieved. By allocating all components of all courses a number of points at the relevant SCQF level, students could potentially build up points across a number of courses whilst being able to choose whether or not to sit the final examination. This would reduce the 'high stakes' nature of the final examination, and allow for students, departments and schools to be judged and compared over the full range of their performance.

Points allocation for units could be based on the 'size' of the units, whilst exam grades could be allocated points determined by the band of pass. In my own subject, Physics, for example -

N5 - points awarded at SCQF level 5

3 x units, each with 10 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands - A1 = 30 points, A2 = 25 points, B3 = 20 points, etc

Higher - points awarded at SCQF level 6

2 x full unit, each with 10 points + 2 x half unit, each with 5 points = 30 points,

Exam grade bands as for N5

Revision and separate certification of assessed course 'Added Value' units and 'Assignments' - 

Many courses have an internally assessed 'Added Value' unit, which at N4 has to meet every one of a significant number of individual criteria. Teachers are allowed to provide feedback to students in order to modify their submissions so that these criteria can be met.

The equivalent component of most N5 courses is an externally assessed 'Assignment', a formal report which is completed 'under close supervision' after a period of research which may include practical experimental work. Though guidance is given to students from their teachers, no feedback may be given on the report produced which is sent to the SQA to be assessed. The final mark for the assignment, given out of 20, forms a small proportion of the final score and hence the final grade.

These arrangements make it much more demanding for an N4 student, who may find the task much more challenging than most N5 students. A poorly completed N4 AVU would not meet all of the critera, resulting in the student not meeting the requirements of the unit, and subsequently not receiving an overall award for the course. A poorly completed N5 Assignment carries no such penalty, and would simply give the student a lower final score - without denying the student an overall pass.

Revisions should be made to the assessment of AVU tasks to make them fairer on the students. Perhaps an AVU could be consider to have been passed if a significant proportion of the criteria for the task, say 10 out of 15, were met by the student.

In addition to the significant differences in the assessments of these equivalent tasks across SCQF levels, AVU and assignment tasks are often very similar in related subject areas. This results in significant duplication of effort and repeated assessment of skills across a number of a student's subjects.

By assessing these tasks on a skills basis, rather than within subjects, a single AVU or assignment could be completed by a student studying more than one science, or social subject. Students could choose which subject or subjects their assignments could cover, potentially allowing more meaningful, challenging, inter-disciplinary work to be undertaken. Though this might make the assessment of students' reports more complicated, it might offer an opportunity to make the assessment criteria more flexible, as they are for the Baccalaureate qualifications undertaken by some students in S6. If nothing else, a reduction in the number of these tasks would significantly reduce the workload on students and reduce the SQA who have found it increasingly difficult to recruit sufficient markers for these tasks since their introduction.

I recognise that these proposals would require significant change to our current systems of assessment and certification, and that the Scottish teaching profession has experienced unprecedented change throughout the development and delivery of Curriculum fro Excellence. I further accept that one of the main reasons for avoiding radical change in the exam system has been concern that parents, employers, colleges and universities, might not fully understand the significance of new qualifications. In reality, it could be argued that these groups don't fully understand the significance of the current qualifications system, and haven't done so for a long time, if they ever have at all.

On a superficial level, it is easily understood that a student with an 'A' grade in a qualification is in some way 'better qualified' than another with a 'C' grade in the same subject, and that a student with five Higher passes is 'better qualified' than another with three Highers and two National 5s. But unless one has recently studied a course, or taught it, there is little chance of understanding what knowledge and skills are really involved gaining such a qualification, let alone how that qualification compares with other subjects or other levels.

It is often argued that we need these qualifications to allow universities to choose between applicants for places on their undergraduate courses. Without wishing to belittle this assertion, it does bear comparison to the 'Sorting Hat' in the Harry Potter novels - e.g. 'AAAAB' at Higher being the minimum requirement for a Law degree (Slytherin?). Increasingly, however, universities apply their own assessment requirements (BMAT, UKCAT exams), conduct entrance interviews, or consider applicants on the broader indicators of their personal statements, reducing their reliance on the crude measurement of 'ability' given by exam results alone.

In many ways the awarding of badges by organisations such as the Boy's Brigade or Scouts to indicate the achievements of their members is a much more understandable form of accreditation. Indeed many professional and vocational qualifications are already 'badgified' in this way using industry standards, against which 'badges' are referenced and accredited. Mozilla, the organisation behind the Firefox we browser, support such a system for teachers to award 'Open Badges' to their students using 'open standards' - where the criteria for which the badge is awarded are embedded as meta-data and awarded digitally. These badges can be electronically attached to a student's digital profile via their blog, Google or other online account, and shared with prospective employers, colleges and universities.

Some work has already been undertaken by the SQA to develop this approach to accreditation, outlined in this press release from 2013, with small scale projects being adopted by some FE colleges, including Borders College, for accrediting the work of both students and staff whose CPD is accredited in this way.

Open badges may not solve all of the short comings of our current system, indeed other, better systems may be in use elsewhere, or currently under development. Such a system, if combined with students' unique Glow account could potentially stay with them throughout their schooling and beyond, perhaps even following them beyond further and higher education and into employment. The development of such a 'Scottish Learner's Account', integrating assessment, certification and the accreditation of skills could form the foundation of a truly radical approach to these issues upon which students at all stages could build throughout the 'Lifelong Learning' that lies at the heart of the Scottish Government's ambitions for the future of education.

Why we need to reform assessment⤴

from @ stuckwithphysics.co.uk

Following on from my post back in May 'Do Exams Pass Under CfE?', I have given the issues of assessment and certification some further consideration, which I outlined in my presentation at this year's Teachmeet SLF 'Breakout' event held at CitizenM, Glasgow back in September. This post is an attempt to summarise and explain the issues which cause me, and many other people in education, huge concern and why I believe assessment must be reformed.

As I outlined in 'Do Exams Pass Under CfE?', the system of assessment and certification has remained largely unchanged after the significant changes brought to the Scottish education system by Curriculum for Excellence. Course content may have been reworked in most subjects, with many now including an extended research and presentation task (assignment) which contributes a proportion of the final exam score, but the framework of unit tests and final exam remains at the heart of how students are assessed.

In many ways what has been put into place for the new CfE National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, with the unit tests becoming more high-stakes than the NABs they replace - candidates receive only two opportunities to 'pass' these tests unless under 'exceptional circumstances', but cannot receive a grade for the final exam unless all course units have been passed.

In my own subject the old NAB unit assessments, where pupils had to achieve a score of 60% to pass, have been replaced by assessment which are broken down into two main parts -

  • 2.1 Knowledge & Understanding (KU) - which is broken down in to individual Key Areas described in the SQA arrangements documentation. To 'pass' this component students must respond correctly to at least half of the questions - i.e. if there are 14 questions, 7 must be answered correctly. If a student doesn't meet this requirement they can be reassessed, but they need only to attempt questions from Key Areas that they did not 'pass' in their first attempt. If they do not succeed at a second attempt, they have not met the minimum standard and cannot progress unless there are 'exceptional circumstances' which would allow a third attempt.
  • 2.2 Problem Solving (PS) - which is further broken down into four skills - Predicting, Selecting, Processing and Analysing. In these tasks student must correctly respond to at least half of each type of question in order to 'pass' that problems solving skill - i.e. if there are 6 processing questions, 3 must be answered correctly. Students who don't meet this requirement for each of the problem solving skills do not need to be reassessed, as other unit assessments will allow opportunities to demonstrate the same skills. Each skill need only be 'passed' on one occasion across each of the three unit assessments.

Teachers giving these assessments must record each students performance in terms of 'pass' or 'fail' not just for each unit, but for KU and each of the four PS skills for each unit. This applies to courses at all levels from National 3 to Advanced Higher. The collating and recording of students' progress through these assessments is both complex and time consuming. However, more is required both of students and teachers.

In all courses except N3, students achieving passes in KU across each unit, and across each of the four PS skills must also complete two further tasks before they can sit the final exam -

  • Outcome 1 - practical experimental report. This tasks is broadly similar to the LO3 task in the old Higher course where students perform an experiment and write up a detailed report meeting criteria set by SQA. This task is broken down into a number of individual outcomes, each of which can be achieved in any number of different activities. Students need only achieve each individual outcome once across the whole course - these must also be recorded by the teacher.
  • Research task - The detailed requirements vary between courses, but in general this is an extended research task which is conducted by all students.
    • At N4, the 'Added Value Unit' (AVU), which is internally assessed, contains a number of individual criteria all of which must be met in order for the student to 'pass' the task and achieve a course award. Students may receive feedback from teachers to ensure all the criteria are met.
    • At N5, students conduct an 'Assignment'. This research task, which may or may not include experimental work, requires them to collate information as they progress through the task. At the end of the 'research phase' of the task, students are required to compile a report, including items demonstrating a variety of information processing and presentations skills 'under a strict degree of supervision'. The student can not be given any feedback on their report, which is sent to SQA for external assessment. The assignment report is given a mark out of 20 which counts towards the final grade.
    • At Higher, students complete the 'Researching Physics' half unit within the course. This is assessed internally by teachers against criteria set by SQA and must include evidence of both research and practical work conducted by the students. The Researching Physics unit can be used as the basis for the students' remaining assessment task - the 'Assignment'. As for the N5 assignment, students must compile a report 'under a degree of strict supervision' demonstrating a number of information processing and presentation skills, and no feedback can be given. The completed report is sent to the SQA for external assessment with the mark out of 20 counting towards the final grade.
    • At Advanced Higher the arrangements are similar to those for Higher, though pupils conduct extended practical work as part of their 'Investigation'. This is assessed both internally as a half unit, and externally through their investigation report which is compiled by the student through out the task. Students are allowed to be given feedback at all stages throughout this task.

Only when a student has successfully completed all of the internally assessed components of their course are they allowed to sit the final examination. At the end of all of this detailed and highly involved assessment the final grade awarded to the student will depend mostly on their performance in during the two to two-and-a-half hours spent in the examination hall, with no recognition at all of the tasks that have been successfully completed on the way.

Bearing in mind that students may be following as many as seven N5 courses, in which various other combinations of assessment tasks and arrangements may be in place, there is no doubt that the new CfE courses have significantly increased the burden of assessment on both students and teachers. This is clearly unsustainable and an alternative must be found.

In my next post, I will detail my proposals for reforming the process of assessment to reduce some of this burden and the certification of courses to allow greater recognition of the achievements students assessments throughout their courses.

Why we need to reform assessment⤴

from @ stuckwithphysics.co.uk

Following on from my post back in May 'Do Exams Pass Under CfE?', I have given the issues of assessment and certification some further consideration, which I outlined in my presentation at this year's Teachmeet SLF 'Breakout' event held at CitizenM, Glasgow back in September. This post is an attempt to summarise and explain the issues which cause me, and many other people in education, huge concern and why I believe assessment must be reformed.

As I outlined in 'Do Exams Pass Under CfE?', the system of assessment and certification has remained largely unchanged after the significant changes brought to the Scottish education system by Curriculum for Excellence. Course content may have been reworked in most subjects, with many now including an extended research and presentation task (assignment) which contributes a proportion of the final exam score, but the framework of unit tests and final exam remains at the heart of how students are assessed.

In many ways what has been put into place for the new CfE National 3-5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, with the unit tests becoming more high-stakes than the NABs they replace - candidates receive only two opportunities to 'pass' these tests unless under 'exceptional circumstances', but cannot receive a grade for the final exam unless all course units have been passed.

In my own subject the old NAB unit assessments, where pupils had to achieve a score of 60% to pass, have been replaced by assessment which are broken down into two main parts -

  • 2.1 Knowledge & Understanding (KU) - which is broken down in to individual Key Areas described in the SQA arrangements documentation. To 'pass' this component students must respond correctly to at least half of the questions - i.e. if there are 14 questions, 7 must be answered correctly. If a student doesn't meet this requirement they can be reassessed, but they need only to attempt questions from Key Areas that they did not 'pass' in their first attempt. If they do not succeed at a second attempt, they have not met the minimum standard and cannot progress unless there are 'exceptional circumstances' which would allow a third attempt.
  • 2.2 Problem Solving (PS) - which is further broken down into four skills - Predicting, Selecting, Processing and Analysing. In these tasks student must correctly respond to at least half of each type of question in order to 'pass' that problems solving skill - i.e. if there are 6 processing questions, 3 must be answered correctly. Students who don't meet this requirement for each of the problem solving skills do not need to be reassessed, as other unit assessments will allow opportunities to demonstrate the same skills. Each skill need only be 'passed' on one occasion across each of the three unit assessments.

Teachers giving these assessments must record each students performance in terms of 'pass' or 'fail' not just for each unit, but for KU and each of the four PS skills for each unit. This applies to courses at all levels from National 3 to Advanced Higher. The collating and recording of students' progress through these assessments is both complex and time consuming. However, more is required both of students and teachers.

In all courses except N3, students achieving passes in KU across each unit, and across each of the four PS skills must also complete two further tasks before they can sit the final exam -

  • Outcome 1 - practical experimental report. This tasks is broadly similar to the LO3 task in the old Higher course where students perform an experiment and write up a detailed report meeting criteria set by SQA. This task is broken down into a number of individual outcomes, each of which can be achieved in any number of different activities. Students need only achieve each individual outcome once across the whole course - these must also be recorded by the teacher.
  • Research task - The detailed requirements vary between courses, but in general this is an extended research task which is conducted by all students.
    • At N4, the 'Added Value Unit' (AVU), which is internally assessed, contains a number of individual criteria all of which must be met in order for the student to 'pass' the task and achieve a course award. Students may receive feedback from teachers to ensure all the criteria are met.
    • At N5, students conduct an 'Assignment'. This research task, which may or may not include experimental work, requires them to collate information as they progress through the task. At the end of the 'research phase' of the task, students are required to compile a report, including items demonstrating a variety of information processing and presentations skills 'under a strict degree of supervision'. The student can not be given any feedback on their report, which is sent to SQA for external assessment. The assignment report is given a mark out of 20 which counts towards the final grade.
    • At Higher, students complete the 'Researching Physics' half unit within the course. This is assessed internally by teachers against criteria set by SQA and must include evidence of both research and practical work conducted by the students. The Researching Physics unit can be used as the basis for the students' remaining assessment task - the 'Assignment'. As for the N5 assignment, students must compile a report 'under a degree of strict supervision' demonstrating a number of information processing and presentation skills, and no feedback can be given. The completed report is sent to the SQA for external assessment with the mark out of 20 counting towards the final grade.
    • At Advanced Higher the arrangements are similar to those for Higher, though pupils conduct extended practical work as part of their 'Investigation'. This is assessed both internally as a half unit, and externally through their investigation report which is compiled by the student through out the task. Students are allowed to be given feedback at all stages throughout this task.

Only when a student has successfully completed all of the internally assessed components of their course are they allowed to sit the final examination. At the end of all of this detailed and highly involved assessment the final grade awarded to the student will depend mostly on their performance in during the two to two-and-a-half hours spent in the examination hall, with no recognition at all of the tasks that have been successfully completed on the way.

Bearing in mind that students may be following as many as seven N5 courses, in which various other combinations of assessment tasks and arrangements may be in place, there is no doubt that the new CfE courses have significantly increased the burden of assessment on both students and teachers. This is clearly unsustainable and an alternative must be found.

In my next post, I will detail my proposals for reforming the process of assessment to reduce some of this burden and the certification of courses to allow greater recognition of the achievements students assessments throughout their courses.