24 July 2006

Rising exam pass rates


Our education minister Alan Johnson has made a pre-emptive strike against critics of ever-rising pass rates by claiming the effect is due to better teaching and learning. I'm sorry but I think this claim is laughable. An ideology of "mediocracy" (wanting everyone to come out equal) has pushed the setting and marking of exams in the direction of everyone passing and most people getting top grades.

A colleague who works in the teaching sector tells me that exams have become more about jumping through hoops. (This is somewhat ironic considering that contemporary educational philosophy supposedly promotes less learning by rote and more independent thought.) If exams depend entirely on mechanical techniques rather than analytical skills, then anyone of minimal intelligence who does what they are told will get the top grade. This means exams test willingness to conform to learning things in the way prescribed, rather than ability to think.

This interpretation of rising pass rates makes perfect sense, given the prevailing desire to believe that ability is not innate but depends entirely on training.