Friday, May 11, 2007

So how was it for you?

Well, I suppose I can't really keep a blog on maths teaching in Scotland and not comment on the SQA exams, so it's probably time I gave my thoughts on the Standard Grade papers from last week. Feel free to disagree.

Overall they were fine, sort of, in that they were reasonably free from daft questions that are so non-standard that very few pupils will get anywhere with them. In years past there have been a few real beezers, the sort of questions where you despair of the setters, because you can't believe a teacher working "at the chalk face" wouldn't spot straight away that something was badly awry. This year was fine in that respect.

Relatively speaking, I think the hardest paper was actually the Foundation one (the "easiest" level by far), where the level of numeracy expected was quite challenging for the pupils concerned. (There's a real problem with maths at this level: in most other subjects pupils end up with grades better than Foundation, whereas we see kids actually failing at this most basic level. But that's a discussion for another day.) The General paper was a skoosh, and as for Credit...

Well, initially I was pleased because, as I've said above, there were no daft questions. But upon reflection I have to say now that I think the exam was just too easy - and believe me, I don't often say that. In particular, the level of algebraic skills required was way too low and there was no hefty manipulation (quiet at the back) which would help to really test a pupil's algebra at this level.

Now OK, maybe SQA will raise the cut-off scores to reflect an easier exam, but all the same I'm worried that we're going to have pupils with a Credit grade who don't really deserve it - and, these pupils are then going to attempt Higher next session, thinking they're doing well. Recent SQA statistics show that fewer than 50% of pupils with a grade 2 at Credit (the lower of the two possible pass grades) manage to pass the Higher in fifth year. I don't see how this standard of exam is going to change that depressing figure.

(Mind you, if my class don't get good grades come the results in August, boy am I going to be mad! Talk about setting yourself up for a fall...)

Key question: if we want to improve the standard of maths education in Scotland, do we have to award fewer passes - at least, to begin with?


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