Letter: Elusive carrot

Tom Hardy
Monday 23 August 1999 23:02

Sir: I am surprised that, in the annual debate about standards at A level and GCSE (report, 20 August), it has not been reported that exam boards have quietly returned to the highly inequitable system of assessment, last seen in the days of the O-level, known as norm referencing, where grades are awarded not on the basis of recognised standards of performance, but on a pre-determined percentage of the examination entry.

Presumably this is to give the impression, in the face of the yearly accusation that exams are getting easier, that standards are not rising as fast as they actually are. This highly retrograde step has the effect of rendering year-on-year comparisons meaningless.

What is the point of introducing scholarship aptitude tests to gauge the exact level of a student's ability at each stage of his/her schooling, only to impose a predetermined percentage of higher grades at public exam level?

The waters are further muddied because norm referencing kicks in only if there is a more than 2-per-cent increase in standards. This creates a climate where a successful teacher's quest for significant yearly improvement is a carrot that is continually out of reach.

Moreover, the resulting apparent deceleration then becomes a stick with which to beat the profession. This can only lead to increased disillusionment and a further loss of morale.

A good teacher will derive job satisfaction from seeing students fulfil their potential. This motivation is seriously in danger of being undermined.


Head of Art

North London Collegiate School

London N1

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