Research on Grade 5 Schols| Perils and Promises of Testing by Spot Exams

Research needed on Grade 5 Schols

article_imageI reply to the long and interesting article by Usvatte Aratchi in Wednesday’s The Island, about the value or lack of value of the Grade 5 Scholarship exam for 10 year olds. I won’t comment on the various points clearly made, but simply point out that as far as I know, the only real follow-up research on the future academic careers of those who sat the tests, has been undertaken by myself and an experienced academic lecturer at the University of Peradeniya in 2013.

This research asked 300 (100 for each year} undergraduates to write on a piece of paper their scores achieved at the Scholarship examinations in2010, 2011, 2012. No names were recorded on the paper. Some did consult their parents to obtain the scores. However, the majority had little difficulty in remembering. As no names were attached to the information, it was assumed that inflation of their mark had no value. In 2012 the cut off point for a “scholarship” was 152.

  • In 2010, 8 students scored above the cut off and 39 scored below 100.

  • In 2011, 12 students scored above cut off and 32 scored below 100

  • In 2012, 13 students scored above cut off and 28 scored below 100

  • Of those that scored below 100 a sizable number were well below 100

The question arises as to how many of these students achieved Z scores sufficiently high, to gain a coveted university place. Many may have been late developers, as the age of 10 is too young to assess all academic potential. Probably Churchill and Einstein at 10 years old would not have achieved the Scholarship award. Other students may have relied on intensive visits to tuition centres, or may have had the benefit of excellent teaching at their secondary schools.

However, it does reflect on the negative value of the test at 10 years old. Coaching for the test now begins in grade one at many tuition centers. It is obvious that several years of repeating past papers does benefit many children, in that the brain begins to rote memorize patterns in the same way as a computer does. I have tried in the past but without success, to find any other research into the longitude effects and outcomes of the Scholarship test. Many letters to universities and ministries have received no response. Offers to make available the formal computer documentation (example below) have also not been accepted.

It would be very simple to make a research at Girls High School, Kandy, which accepts students from Grade One, plus others who achieve top scores at Grade 5 scholarship examination. Many of those at Grade One have not been subjected to academic selection, and automatically graduate to Grade Six. Are their “O” and “A” level GCE results markedly different? The few that I have managed to question do not indicate a clear difference. A number of years ago I suggested such a research to three similar schools, but no replies were received despite several follow ups.

Copies of the computer printouts can be obtained from myself without charge, if someone wants to make a more detailed analysis of the results. -DR. DOUGLAS M KING,

Perils and Promises of Testing by Spot Exams 

article_imageThat some kind of testing (by conventional ‘examinations’ for example) is unavoidable given the spread of talent in natural populations. Like height and body-mass, there is a probabilistic or Gaussian distribution of innate intelligence in natural populations. Education draws out and enhances this endowment with varying degrees of success.

That some are genetically so poorly endowed that all the teaching in the world cannot erase their inborn misfortune is a fact that we have to live with. Conversely, a fortunate elite will do well even if the pedagogic environment is miserable. The crux of the problem is this – given a cohort of school-goers, how do we grade them if their training schedules and their genetic endowment are unknown? A reasonable procedure would be to ask their Teachers – the people who have interacted most with the learners on academic matters. The difficulty is, of course, the bias and the lack of common standards across schools.

Given this background, it is not surprising that ‘Public Examinations’ have become the exclusive instrument of testing levels of scholastic achievement.

What is the key defect in the use of public examinations to assess competence and success?

Let us use a hypothetical model to illustrate the difficulty. Suppose a thousand pupils answer papers at a public examination of the conventional kind. After ‘correction’ by competent examiners, the top performers – the first ten for example – are declared as the best of the lot. Let us now move to hypothesis – the same cohort is asked to ‘sit’ another examination -based on the same syllabus of course – with papers set by a different set of examiners of equal competence, but with different attitudes on the mechanism of testing. Will the first ten in this second examination be the same as the winners of the first? One can safely bet that this will not be the case? Indeed it is quite likely that the second set will differ substantially from the first. What is the upshot of this little thought experiment?

It is not to suggest that we can do away with public examinations, but to acknowledge that competitive grading on a one-shot public examination is not only unsound but socially damaging. Real talent can be overlooked as examinations assess routines and competitive ability in their execution. Creative work is something altogether different.

There is an answer to conundrum of public testing of large populations – it is the method of continuous assessment – that of individual testing on multiple occasions throughout the course – the tests being formulated by a standard-setting external authority. The school-structure in Sri Lanka is so diffuse and without scholastic integration that such regular testing is near impossible.

There is a hoary tradition in this country of ‘one-shot’ testing – the leading cause being the reluctance of teachers in our ‘Oriental’ culture to directly interact – as equals – with their pupils. I pursued an honours course in science at our local university decades ago – I cannot recall a single instance of my teachers speaking to me in a friendly and informal way – let alone discussing anything academic. They rode the high horse and we grovelled. This malaise is still exists at all levels and bedevils education and much else in our country. –R. CHANDRASOMA

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