Monday, 30 April 2012

What is so wrong with resits?

OK, confession time: it took me three attempts to pass my driving test.  Yes three!  I know that some people manage to get through first time.  Others, like myself, take a little longer to reach the required standard.

The thing is, I did reach the required standard, eventually.  Is my achievement any less because I didn't pass first time?

Our education system has used two ways of judging exam success:

Many years ago, exams were decided against a 'norm'.  This meant that no matter how well the cohort of students had done in their exams, only a fixed percentage could get an A grade or a B grade and so on.  Clearly this is unfair because one student could do better than a different student in another year and achieve a lower grade.  Or put another way, two students could have reached the same standard but be awarded different grades.

Now we set standards against which we assess students.  If the student achieves the standard, they get the grade that goes with that standard.  This is far fairer.  However, there is no limit on the number of students who can achieve an A-Grade.  Whoever reaches that standard, gets the grade.

Politicians, universities, the media and the public complain that being able to resit a module or test again and again makes it far too easy to achieve a high grade.  However, why shouldn't a student who has achieved that standard be awarded the grade?  They may not have achieved it first time but they did reach the standard in the end.

Universities, professional qualifications and work-based assessments all allow resits, why do we want to deny this to students in school?

The answer is probably that we can't actually decide what school exams are for.  Should they be to recognise achievement or should they be to select students for the next level of education?  Whilst there is this tension between the two purposes there will always be an argument over resits, 'grade-inflation' and so on.

I actually like students being able to take resits, and I don't see what is wrong with them.  After all, if we applied the princple of no resits to the driving test, I would still be trying to get to work each day on the bus.

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