August 2020

Developing and assessing exam skills without exam conditions

Thanks to @miss_jayin who helped devise this.

Our school has long desired to free itself of the tyranny of exams and move towards authentic assessment. Given the freedom I had with my class I clearly should have being doing more over these past few years. I plan to take advantage of the impetus and the drastic changes in this uncertain world of COVID-19.

I teach in a British school and so we follow the British curriculum and its proclivity for high stakes standardised examinations. A far cry from Finland’s singular national matriculation examination. I am not entirely anti-exams as seems to be the trend nowadays. Nor do I believe in teaching to the test, save those final few weeks of crunch time. I do believe in regularly immersing the students in exam questions though to build up familiarity with specific idiosyncrasies, presentation and language. I definitely do not do enough project based learning. I probably attempt one or two experimental project activities per class per year. This has lead to many failures, though the few successes do get repeated and I should eventually have a repertoire of one per topic and grade.

When our school underwent lock-down the uncertainty and prioritisation of the exam classes combined with slow and vague communication from the examining bodies left the question of remote assessments hanging. Eventually we attempted to deliver end of year exams online with some measures to simulate an in-class experience, however, the overall consensus is that it was not fit for purpose. Some students had connection issues. Others disliked the digital format and struggled to edit the documents satisfactorily. Some had their answers disappear because a parent reset a router mid-exam in an attempt to reestablish their connection to a work meeting. Others submitted too early so I was required to release it back to them and then set them a separate end time. Then was the very obvious problem of cheating.

So we do not want to repeat that. We could continue to experiment with refining our procedure, or invest in those incredibly controversial remote or algorithmic proctoring platforms that detect keystrokes patterns, mouse movements among a host of other checks. That seems a little overboard for our situation even if the many issues were addressed . Knowledge can be developed and assessed in a myriad of fashions so why continue to deliver a flawed process in unsuitable conditions under overbearing procedures that further stress already emotional and anxious students. This was the time to research, experiment and innovate.

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