«The importance of coursework Skills and abilities such as practical and field work, research, independent study, extended writing and proof-reading ...»
We could encourage research and wide reading by designing assessments which allow preprepared material into the exam hall – eg lists of references, which can be used in construction of an unseen essay question. Or if not, mark schemes could be used to allocate marks to use of references. This would encourage wide reading in key texts. Model essay responses could demonstrate how wide reading can lead to outcomes which gain higher marks. Grade descriptors could emphasise this.
Awarding bodies could set comparative questions – eg compare three poems from three separate epochs.
However, we prefer wide reading to be encouraged through the course approach and pedagogy rather than the assessment. One route to this is an SMP or Nuffield style approach (outlined in model 5 below), where we create a ‘qualifications package’ which
gives high detail in these elements, all presented as a linked whole:
Course content Teaching materials and student materials In service training re course content Formative assessment instruments Exam content In the past, this model promoted the idea of an integrated offer (course and assessment coherently linked) – which must be consistent with ‘expansive’ rather than ‘instrumental’ education. But developing this is slow, and expensive. It is a viable way forward, but is a long term strategy, due to the high level of both resource and co-ordination required.
Recreative skills The creative range of students is maximised where control over the form of the coursework tasks is low (see below). Creative range in outcomes tends to mean lower reliability in assessment. This is a harsh but necessary trade-off.
Independence Without high control over the way coursework is done (see below) there can be no assurance that independent work has been undertaken. Indeed, notionally - and under contexts not conditioned by hyper-accountability - this can best be assured by the teacher, since there is strong research which shows that the teacher is the best judge of the authenticity of students’ work. This really is best left to the teacher and the school.
Writing/proofreading skills Consider this: a three hour exam does test writing skills. In the 1960s and 1970s many high quality schools simply used essays from week one of the two years of A level study as a means of refining students’ writing and proofreading skills. Again, we see this more as a part of the general goods from education and part of the general duties of schools, not something which should derive from the assessment alone. Of course, formative assessment tasks provided by awarding bodies could be very important in encouraging this in learning programmes.
As a footnote, on innovative forms of terminal assessment, in the 1970s and 1980s, Sussex University used three and five-day ‘take-away’ papers which allowed greater scope for writing and proofreading. While still vulnerable to parental support etc, they led to very high quality written output. But this was outside a context of hyper-accountability.
Proportion of coursework The proportion of coursework assessment in a qualification should be determined by the following considerations.
The proportion of coursework has for the last two decades (given the 1992 Café Royale speech by John Major) been determined less by specific evidence relating to the development of specific qualifications for specific contexts, than by elevated national discussions regarding generic design criteria.
The discussions need to return to:
- validity of content: driven by well evidenced discussion of key constructs
- validity of form: allocation of constructs to assessment modes and forms
- value: educational benefit
- dependability: considerations of the potential risks and conflicts when teachers are responsible for assessment – including understanding the true drivers and incentives operating on teachers in the role of assessors
- utility: issues of cost and manageability In other words, the proportion of coursework assessment (from 100pc to 0pc) is a contingent matter – which should be determined once the form of constructs and form of assessment has been determined, and is best optimised at a late stage in the qualification design process - and definitely is not some crude blanket recommendation across subjects or assumed at the start of the process, in the absence of a validity argument regarding the key 6|Page constructs/assessment objectives. But consideration of ‘cultural, social, operational and political context’ is vital; I have referred repeatedly to consideration of the drivers and incentives operating in education arrangements at any one time – currently in the period of hyper-accountability and weak professionalisation of the teacher role in assessment.
6 Looking forward: alternative models
If Awarding Bodies adopt external moderation visits, with a facility to interview students and question them regarding the work, it is possible to open up the forms of coursework assessment, depending on subject. This interacts with the marking schemes and the external moderators’ ability to make consistent judgements, but is an option. It is frighteningly expensive, and complex to organise in a manner which delivers higher levels of dependability in the assessment. Done to a level which might command very high levels of confidence, it could consist of complete re-assessment, by external assessors, of all material produced by students and assessed by their teachers. This would raise serious questions of the benefit and cost to schools.
Model 3 More openness in structure; high control of administration (but with a range of scenarios for schools not just a single option); and high external moderation This is expensive and complex, but could give the assurance needed, and the educational licence to do interesting assessment tasks. The high control of administration may be required to ensure lack of parental plagiarism etc.
A note: In respect of this ‘high levels of moderation’ model, awarding bodies could offer a cheaper non-coursework option and a high-fee coursework option (external moderation visits) with (much?) higher fees. The relation between outcomes could provide additional measures in statistical moderation approaches. But this scenario would require variable national criteria in respect of coursework assessment weighting in the qualifications.
Further models which move from assessed coursework:
Model 4 A programme-based approach to high quality coursework This is described in considerable detail, since we consider this approach to have high potential for delivering dependable assessment and development of necessary learning outcomes associated with coursework.
In the light of the analysis of the conflicting pressures on teachers and awarding bodies, the cost to schools, and complexity of ensuring that coursework can be delivered as dependable assessment contributing to grades is regarded as unmanageable. Not in an absolute sense, but in the current context.
As with the other possible models, this model assumes that rigorous analysis is completed, in each subject, by qualification developers working in conjunction with the subject community and accessing leading research, to determine the skills and knowledge which are best developed through activities such as practical experiment, fieldwork, creative activity etc. This would yield a list of key outcomes associated with coursework.
7|Page Within this model, the qualification specification/syllabus would provide a clear description of activities which should be included in the learning programme in order to ensure development of the list of desired outcomes. Stated alongside the description of the assessment outcomes for the examination, this would comprise the ‘syllabus’ for the qualification.
There would be no coursework which contributes ‘marks’ or assessment outcomes to the completion of the qualification.
There would be no preferred assessment approaches for coursework, although the syllabus could give indicative assessment activities and show their relationship to the desired outcomes associated with the coursework activities.
The following processes would be linked to high quality coursework/practical activity in order to ensure that it is a part of learning programmes – all elements below could be included in
Element 1 – assessment, in the examination, of knowledge linked to coursework Knowledge elements capable of being assessed through examination and linked to effective performance in the practical activity would be included as questions in the examination. For example, this would include experimental hazards, fieldwork observation protocols, etc. The syllabus would make clear that these knowledge elements would best be learned through practical elements (‘grounded theory’ – things are more effectively recalled and understood when they have been learned in authentic contexts).
The specific assessment objectives, their weighting etc, would be clearly described in the qualification specification; the form of the preferred/ recommended practical activities would be included alongside.
Element 2 – assurance of practical/coursework activity by the exam board Teachers would be required to keep a ‘coursework log/diary’ which would detail the activities completed by pupils, and would indicate how the desired outcomes were focused upon in teaching and learning. This would require counter-signing by the head of the school/college.
All centres would be subject to a visit to ensure first and continuing approval as a centre with adequate resource to run the qualification. The examination board staff would check the log/diary as part of centre approval and monitoring processes.
Any breach or misrepresentation in the documentation or allied processes would be treated as malpractice. The procedures for compliance and treatment of malpractice would be included in JCQ requirements.
Element 3 – assurance of practical/coursework activity by Ofsted Ofsted subject-based inspection would check the provision of adequate and high quality coursework activities and use the ‘coursework log/diary’ as part of inspection evidence.
The advantages of this model include:
- parental involvement in coursework is no longer ‘cheating’ to boost exam grades, but part of supportive learning of desired outcomes
- allowing variation in precise form of coursework, removing the problems of overconstraint associated with ‘controlled assessment’ - this opens up control and innovation for schools
- putting in place a ‘higher trust’ relation between awarding bodies and schools, where the awarding bodies respect schools’ ability to put in place high quality learning;
awarding bodies are not faced with their own ‘impossible task’ of policing coursework to ensure trustworthy coursework assessment
- securing the objective of ensuring that coursework is included in the learning programme, that desirable outcomes are focused upon, but that the qualification award is based on dependable assessment
- removing the upwards pressure on exam fees which is present in alternative models which seek to guarantee the dependability of coursework assessment Model 5 A ‘qualifications package’ model For this we need an SMP or Nuffield style approach where we create a ‘qualifications
package’ which gives high detail in these elements, all presented as a linked whole:
Course content Teaching materials and student materials In service training re course content Formative assessment instruments Exam content ‘Desired skills’ and related outcomes are developed through the learning programme. It relies on professional development and highly refined learning materials. Marks in coursework would not contribute to grades in the examination. This model promotes the idea of an integrated offer which must be consistent with ‘expansive’ rather than ‘instrumental’ education. But developing this is slow, and expensive. It is a viable way forward, but is a long term strategy, due to the high level of both resource and co-ordination required.
Although radical, our proposals seek to secure the highly desirable outcomes of education which traditionally have been associated with coursework assessment, but within a model fit for purpose and fit for the time. Although moving away from formally recognised coursework assessment, it seeks to both reinforce the quality and dependability of public examinations as well as enhance the quality of education. Radical solutions in demanding times.
Note Teachers’ detection of plagiarism http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=2054581 http://www.osstf.on.ca/adx/aspx/adxGetMedia.aspx?DocID=dd052ff6-447a-49b1-a86faeb921e864a&MediaID=81f783c5-a8a3-4f71-b5a5-aa693df87c36&Filename=growing-successpolicy-workgroup-report.pdf&l=English