Exams and tests

I’ve just been marking some Year 7 end of term tests and I wanted to get people’s views on tests split up in to tiers.

I did two tests from different tiers with my class, and inevitably the levels reported by the tests don’t vary wildly.

To me, the whole purpose of summative testing is to get robust data. Why then do we not use as a matter of course one test that covers all possible levels, make it a bit longer and have everyone in a cohort sit the same exam paper. This approach would at the very least get rid of the “which paper will my students be able to get a C on more easily” debate at GCSE level. I also think that doing this throughout will lead to more robust data which is actually useful.

I’ve heard some arguments for having different tiers, such as students having lots of questions they can’t do being bad for self esteem.

What does everyone think? Do you have a preference?

4 replies on “Exams and tests”

Whenever I’ve had classes where I can fully control examination, I basically write my tests as follows on a 100 point scale:

0-30 (F): You know next to nothing and have only retained information from the course prerequisite (if first exam, otherwise, you only barely remember stuff from the previous unit).
30-40 (D): Ok, you know some definitions and can muddle around with some basic mechanics.
40-60 (C): You know definitions and have a command of basic mechanics.
60-85 (B): You know definitions, have a command of basic mechanics, and have some understanding of more advanced mechanics, but haven’t quite been able to figure out how to combine multiple concepts together.
85-100 (A): You know your stuff, definitions, basic mechanics, advanced mechanics, can combine multiple concepts together, and can work on “inverse”-type problems.

I think it depends on school policy too…I have given two tiers…but also got some borderline to sit the next level up as an extra if they wish to…trying to get some buy in from them

I can’t comment from experience as I currently only teach Higher Tier.

I spoke to my husband about this. He got an E in his maths GCSE (back in the days of 3-tier GCSEs). He took the Foundation paper. I asked him how he felt at being capped at a grade C. He said he had to get such a high score on Foundation to get a C, he felt it was unachievable even if he understood all of the maths (because he knew he’d make some silly mistakes). So being entered into Foundation was hugely frustrating for him. I asked him if he’d have preferred to be entered for the Intermediate or Higher paper even though it would have including topics he hadn’t studied. He thought that would have been demotivating too! So you can’t win. He was demotivated either way, and this came from being told at primary school that he was bad at maths. His negative experience of maths started at a very young age when he struggled with cuisenaire rods – his teacher lost patience and failed to take into account the fact that he is colour blind.

This is a rather convoluted way of saying – I don’t know what the right answer is. I’d prefer to give everyone the same test, for consistency in comparing results and to support ideas around ‘growth mindset’. But it’s not straightforward at all.

I teach a class with both Higher and Foundation in the same class so it is easier for me to see the effect of tiers directly. During my first year teaching GCSE I was convinced that all students should do the Higher Tier. The threshold for a C at higher seemed so low that it should be attainable.

Having been through it for a number of years, there is no doubt that the Foundation Tier has a place separate from the Higher Tier. Many students who get a C at Higher Tier come away demoralised by the whole experience. Scoring at the rate they have is not a good experience and certainly does not sit well with the idea of achievement.

You have to score quite highly at Foundation level but that is as it should be. You should feel good after passing. Not that you scraped by. It annoys me that there are so many questions in a Foundation exam that are of a pre-KS3 level but it is what it is. I also don’t see the need for so many failing grades. Give students the pass mark, give them their result. They can work the rest out for themselves.

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