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Educators Everywhere See Chance to Ditch Exam Straitjacket

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The Financial Times reports on a new phenomenon: educators around the world see the pandemic as an opportunity to break free of standardized exams.

Tony Stack, a Canadian educator, was developing a new way to assess children even before coronavirus. The decision to scrap end-of-year assessments after the pandemic struck presented the chance to put the “deep learning” approach into practice. “It offered an opportunity for an authentic learning experience, outside some of the constraints of an exam,” said Mr Stack, director of education for Newfoundland and Labrador province. This alternative model, used in 1,300 schools across eight countries, that prioritises skills and independent thinking “set a way forward for a more ethical approach to assessment,” he explained. “Skills that students need to learn through the pandemic cannot be assessed in a single test,” he added.

Most viewed the abrupt cancellation of exams in countries around the world as a regrettable loss that would diminish learning and life chances for a cohort of young people. A vocal group of educators also saw an opportunity to call time on the traditional exams system they say is unjust and outdated. “The pandemic has exacerbated all these problems that were already there with exams,” said Bill Lucas, director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the UK’s Winchester university.

He believes traditional assessments unfairly standardises children of different abilities, fail to capture essential skills and put young people off through its rote-learning, one-size-fits-all approach. “Survey after survey says creativity, critical-thinking and communications are what we need. Exams don’t assess those things,” Mr Lucas said. “Covid has forced us to ask the question: ‘do we want to go back to where we were or do we want to stop and think?’” Rethinking Assessment, the advocacy group he co-founded to push for change, has attracted support from teachers, trade union leaders, policymakers and academics. Among them is Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a Cambridge university neuroscientist who argues that exams such as the GCSEs taken by 16 year-olds in England exaggerate stress and anxiety at a time when teenagers’ brains are still evolving. “We need to reassess whether high intensity, high stakes, national exams such as GCSEs are still the optimal way to assess the academic achievements of a developing young person,” she wrote late last year.

https://www.ft.com/content/9d64e479-182c-4dbd-96fe-0c26272a5875

He believes traditional assessments unfairly standardises children of different abilities, fail to capture essential skills and put young people off through its rote-learning, one-size-fits-all approach. “Survey after survey says creativity, critical-thinking and communications are what we need. Exams don’t assess those things,” Mr Lucas said. “Covid has forced us to ask the question: ‘do we want to go back to where we were or do we want to stop and think?’” Rethinking Assessment, the advocacy group he co-founded to push for change, has attracted support from teachers, trade union leaders, policymakers and academics. Among them is Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a Cambridge university neuroscientist who argues that exams such as the GCSEs taken by 16 year-olds in England exaggerate stress and anxiety at a time when teenagers’ brains are still evolving. “We need to reassess whether high intensity, high stakes, national exams such as GCSEs are still the optimal way to assess the academic achievements of a developing young person,” she wrote late last year.

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