On Thursday evening, I met with my daughter’s Grade 10 Science teacher, and she was pleasant and did a good job explaining the exam and I now feel that this teacher is at least competent. However, I also met with the vice-principal, and asked for further explanation of the “secret” exam policy. I am paraphrasing, but the reason for it comes down to this:
Our teams put a lot of effort into developing unit exams, which we do to ensure that all students take the same exam. Because of the effort, we like to use the standard exam for a whole term or even whole school year. However, we find it necessary to “secure” the exams because once they “get out” students get their hands on them and many students are then able to have an unfair advantage.
My fundamental problem is that parents are not allowed to see these exams except for a brief meeting with a teacher. The only route my child has to learn from her mistakes is to schedule an appointment with the same teacher and review it with her. If she struggled to understand from the teacher in the first place, it might help if that parent could try at home. But that is not allowed.
The reason for keeping the exam secret also bother me because it assumes that parents would “leak” the exam to other students. That lack of trust seems problematic to me.
However, the single biggest failure in this scheme is that exams at a high school level need to be set by committee, creating significant overhead and the need for such ridiculous policies in the first place. Any teacher competent enough to teach a high school subject should also be capable, and required, to set their own exams. Yes, students in one class may get a different exam than another class in another term or year, but it shouldn’t matter. Based on the curriculum topics, a competent teacher should be able to set a high school exam in no more than twice the time the students are given to write it. In fact, I know from professors I had in University that one of the fun parts of teaching was coming up with creative exam questions.
The other topic for exams that this episode has caused me to get frustrated is the move away from exams where students must show their work or express themselves towards multiple choice exams where only the answer is evaluated. This is a terrible way to test whether someone knows something. Evaluating a student when demonstrating their capability but making a small error (such as dropping a 2) allows them to receive “partial marks” and for the teacher to better explain the error to the student so they can learn from their mistakes. Multiple choice exams do not do this.
This use of “committees” to do work that can and should be done by individuals is a critical flaw in many parts of our society. And in the schools it seems even more ill-placed. Committee development tends to the lowest common denominator and generally removes creative ideas because consensus is more important than quality. I see this in my job (which has nothing to do with education) and I can now see the mess it is causing in education, whether at the individual school, board or even provincial ministry level.
- On secrecy in the schools (technicalbard.com)