The demise of exams: Can teacher assessments accurately reflect student ability?
Should schools prioritise teacher assessments over exams? Source: Shutterstock

In many instances worldwide, students are required to sit compulsory standardised exams to measure what they’ve learnt in school. However, the results of a recent UK study calls that into question.

The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that teacher assessments accurately reflect students’ future exam performance in English, maths and science, as well as A-levels and university admission.

Researchers said: “Teacher assessments of achievement are as reliable, stable and heritable as test scores at every stage of the educational experience.”

Their study involved over 5,000 twin pairs studied longitudinally from childhood to young adulthood (age 7 to 18).

“We used teacher assessment and exam performance across development to investigate, using genetically sensitive designs, the associations between teacher assessment and standardised exam scores, as well as teacher assessments’ prediction of exam scores at ages 16 and 18, and university enrolment,” said the authors.

They concluded: “Teachers can reliably and validly monitor students’ progress, abilities and inclinations. High‐stakes exams may shift educational experience away from learning towards exam performance. For these reasons, we suggest that teacher assessments could replace some, or all, high‐stakes exams.”

In The Guardian, authors said the results “raise questions about the value of the testing culture that characterises compulsory education in the UK”, especially in England’s primary and secondary schools.

“The financial, pedagogical and emotional costs of high-stakes testing are substantial, especially compared to its modest benefits. For these reasons, we view our results as support for the standardisation and wider use of teacher assessments and the reduction of testing during compulsory education.

“We should trust teachers to implement the curriculum and to monitor students’ progress, abilities and inclinations. This would arguably benefit the well-being of students as well as teachers, and help to bring joy back to the classroom,” the paper concludes.

But does this mean the death of exams? Not entirely.  

There’s no doubt that exams can take up a significant amount of time and energy, both for students and their teachers.

Countries such as Finland have long been famous for their lack of emphasis on exams – students only take one exam in their final high school year. Despite this, students in the country have consistently performed well in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

Finnish teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves, reported The Atlantic in 2011.

“All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualised grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.”

In recent years, other countries have started to follow suit.

There are already countries that are working towards reducing the number of exams, including Singapore and Canada, as well as some parts of the US.

Perhaps it’s time other countries took a leaf from Finland’s book, too.

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