Delaying exams; why?

So, a research study has arrived at the conclusion that due to Covid19 students may be 3 months behind in their studies.     The delaying of exams to allow students more time to catch up has also been discussed.   This all seems like rather simplistic thinking.

There are for me a number of issues with delaying the exams.

The first is that we already accept that exams differ each year and therefore there is already tinkering in place to adjust the grade boundaries to keep some consistency across academic years when looking at the statistical outcomes of students in general.   This is why the result show small but steady changes year on year rather than being more volatile. It seems to me to be fairly easy to just adjust this process to normalise the exam results next year should they be, as would be expected, lower than previous years and should it be important to maintain parity in results across different calendar years. And this statistical fiddle would be more acceptable than the algorithm proposed for 2020 results as it doesnt differ from the statistical adjustments of GCSE and A-Level results in 2019, 2018, etc.

Another issue, if we were to delay the exams, is that it simply knocks on to following years.   So, delay the GCSE exams would mean teachers would lose some teaching time they would likely use to start A-Level studies or to start Year 13 teaching of A-Level subjects following Year 12 exams.  As such it doesnt solve the issue, but rather displaces it. Is the focus not on learning rather than measuring learning? As such how can any solution with a knock on to teaching and learning be acceptable.

Also, the point students should be at the end of each academic year has been arbitrarily determined.   At some point the curriculum for each subject was developed and the content decided for each year or stage however it could have easily been decided that more or less content be added.   Why, therefore, is the point students should be at perceived to be so immovable? Why not simply reduce content for the year based on the reduced time available to students? Surely this is an alternative option.

There is also the point that next years results will be compared with this years results, where it has already been reported this years results were significantly up.   This obviously resulted from the use of centre assessed grades, provided by teachers, without any of the normal annual statistical manipulation in relation to grade boundaries.    This comparison is unavoidable. So, despite any delay, etc, there is still a high likelihood of negative reporting in the press with regards the 2021 results, with knock-ons in terms of students/parents being disappointed.

This bring us nicely to the big question I have seen a number of people ask, which is 3 months behind who or what?     Is it 3 months behind where teachers think they would be had Covid19 not arisen?   A prediction based on a predication doesn’t provide me with much confidence as to its statistical reliability.   Is it three months behind in terms of curriculum content covered at the predicted rate that content is covered?   Again this suffers given it relies on predicated rate of coverage of materials plus could the content be covered at a faster rate but in less depth possibly?

Maybe this issue is an opportunity to reassess our assumptions and to question our current approach regarding education and how it is assessed or are we simply going to accept that this is the way things are done around here and that any changes should be limited and only in maintaining the status quo? I believe we have reached a fork in the road, however I worry that we may look to take the route which looks easier.


Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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