Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dishonest British exam marks betray kids

Grades are so inflated that real ability can only be guessed at. I am not entirely sympathetic with the kid below, though. Why would he want to study English? He can read all the poems and novels he likes on his own and where is it going to get him anyway? English was by far my best subject but I did not major in it as I could not see the point of wasting a university education on it. My worst subject was always mathematics but I ended up teaching statistics for most of my university teaching career. Reality is often far from the ideal but it pays to recognize it

A new A-level grade intended to help universities pick the most able applicants risks falling victim to the grade inflation it was meant to solve. Candidates are being rejected by universities despite being predicted to score at least three A*s in their A-levels this summer, when the grade is awarded for the first time.

With about one in eight A-level candidates now scoring straight As and thousands rejected each year by Oxford and Cambridge alone, it had been hoped that the A* would identify the academic elite. Figures released last week showed applications to degree courses were up by 23% on last year and the A* has increased the pressure on pupils.

Among those who have been turned down is Robert Kehoe, 18, a grammar school pupil from Lincolnshire, who says he has been rejected by Cambridge and three other universities despite being predicted to win three A*s and an A. To gain an A*, candidates must achieve an average of 80% in exams across their two years of A-level study and 90% in exams in the second year.

Only a handful of universities include A*s in their offers — most successful applicants to Cambridge are told they must gain at least one of the grades this summer. The university is understood to have made its first three A*s offer within the past few days.

Research by the university suggests that even three A*s may not set candidates apart from the crowd. Cambridge analysed the A-level marks scored by present undergraduates and found that 45% of science students and a quarter of those in arts subjects would have gained three or more A* grades. At least 70% of science students and 55% of those in the arts would have merited at least two A*s.

Tutors believe this is likely to be an underestimate of the numbers who will obtain the grades this summer.

“We are told by teachers that students are working much harder than they used to when they knew they were on target for an A grade,” said Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge.

Tim Hands, master of Magdalen College school in Oxford, who co-chairs the main independent schools universities committee, said his school had been advised by Cambridge that applicants to study medicine might need A*s across all their subjects to stand out. He added that Cambridge was being “commendably open and helpful”, in contrast to other universities which had said they would not even acknowledge the A*, potentially magnifying the injustice to pupils. “Students should be aware that admissions systems are heading for a dishonourable and confusing meltdown,” Hands warned.

Kehoe is a pupil at Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Horncastle. His application to read English has been rejected by Christ’s College, Cambridge, by two other colleges at the same university and by Durham, Warwick and University College London. In addition to his predicted A-level A*s, he obtained 10 A*s at GCSE. Kehoe does not know how much better he is expected to do. “I was determined not to lose hope and felt gently reassured by my four As at ASlevel,” he said. “Unfortunately, at present, my Ucas form serves only to depress me.” He is now hoping for success from his remaining university choice, Leeds.

The universities that rejected Kehoe would not comment on his case this weekend, but all said that entry to their English courses was highly competitive. This meant that many candidates with impressive academic credentials had to be turned away. University College London said it had received 1,500 applicants and interviewed 300 for just 70 places. “There are some very good people who fall by the wayside,” it said.


British Mathematics teachers fail primary level test

If you were good at mathematics, why would you want to teach in a British school? To get better teachers you need a more civilized school environment, for starters. Many schools are now so dysfunctional that you would have to be a dummy to work there

Primary school maths teachers are failing to attain the standard of arithmetic expected of 11-year-olds, new research has claimed. Only 20% of the teachers tested for a Channel 4 television documentary were able to work out that the solution to 4+2x5 is 14, not 30 — multiplication takes priority over addition.

The results have led to renewed calls from business leaders for the government to improve standards of maths teaching — last year, more than 20% of pupils left primary school without reaching the expected level of maths in their Sats tests. Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury, tells tomorrow’s edition of Dispatches: “Any system that only succeeds 80% of the time in terms of achieving its basic result needs changing. If we saw that in our business we would be working out how we close that gap. “I don’t think it is about inherent skill. I genuinely don’t believe that many, if any, of our youngsters need to be left in a position of not having basic skills in maths.”

His comments follow those last year by Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, who attacked “woefully low” standards in schools which leave private sector companies to “pick up the pieces”; and Sir Stuart Rose, executive chairman of Marks & Spencer, who said many school-leavers were “not fit for work”.

For its programme Kids Don’t Count, Dispatches used a test devised by Richard Dunne, a maths consultant and former Exeter University academic. The test comprised 27 straightforward questions, most of which, according to Dunne, were of the standard required of an 11-year-old. On average, the teachers answered just 45% of the questions correctly. Only a third knew that 1.4 divided by 0.1 is 14. Currently, primary school teachers in England need only C grades in GCSE maths to be admitted on to teacher training courses.

Dunne said the tests showed that teachers “know so little maths that they cannot be conveying mathematics to their children”. However, Vernon Coaker, the schools minister, denied the claims of poor standards. He said: “The fact is that 100,000 more 11-year-olds are reaching level 4 in maths compared with 1997 because of record investment, great teaching and a strong focus on the basics for all pupils.”

Alison Wolf, professor of public sector management at King’s College London, said she was “horrified” by the Channel 4 findings and that teacher training was to blame. “Our obsession with generic teaching skills has crowded out time in which we could be making sure that [teachers] have the basic knowledge,” said Wolf. “I don’t think you can teach maths if you can’t do it either.”


Imprisoning kids

by John Stossel

Obama's newest "deficit-conscious" budget calls for a 9% increase in federal education spending. Instead of dumping the money on our flailing public K-12 system, he should try something that actually works. Today's Wall Street Journal suggests that he look at the voucher program in Milwaukee:
In 2008 the graduation rate for voucher students was 77% versus 65% for the nonvoucher students, though the latter receives $14,000 per pupil in taxpayer support, or more than double the $6,400 per pupil that voucher students receive in public funding.

I don't consider graduation rates the best comparative measure. Schools may graduate kids who are uneducated and unprepared. But other studies of voucher programs find that voucher kids' test scores rise. That's a better measure.

It's unlikely that the president will support vouchers. In Washington D.C., Obama killed the Opportunity Scholarship program even though it raised test scores while spending half as much money as government schools spent. The unions give to Democrats, and the unions don't want competition to their public school monopoly.

Unless we allow parents more choice, we effectively imprison kids. I will do a show on that soon. Suggestions invited.


No comments: