Inferior analysis

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Dr John Cameron ventured into the controversy about the “dumbing down” of examination assessments (your report, 8 August) and referred to Princeton’s A,B,C classification and to Durham University’s notion that what is now A-rated used to be C.

Any practising educator will be faced with the difficulty of grading class performances, and examination markers will have to mark and rank examination papers, according to norm referencing or criteria referencing.

There is a vast array of discussion papers available online about “norm referencing”, and “criteria-based assessments”and their merits and disadvantages for different subject areas.

Criteria referencing is seemingly more straightforward for “hard” knowledge disciplines like mathematics, chemistry and physics, but apparently so-called soft disciplines like history ­exhibit “fuzziness” according to some.

Having a set of learning objectives seems intrinsically better than chopping up exam results (grading on the curve) with only fixed percentages every year for A, B, C etc grade, irrespective of the fluctuating abilities within each cohort – excellent but not absolutely top-line performers will be penalised by default in an overall high-performing year.

The same basic material must be taught from year to year, particularly where foundation knowledge is a prerequisite for subsequent years, and adjusted as subject matter expands as society progresses.

It is not enough any more to say from personal experience one knows which pupils or students are top performing or average or failing; increased objectivity is needed. So-called grade inflation could then be explained by learners continuing to get a much better hold on the set objectives, and handling coursework well.

Who really believes that our current learners are academically inferior to those of yesteryear? If they are, then their subsequent education, training and/or employment lives must be in jeopardy, as must our country’s future prosperity.

I don’t think so, although there might be a question-mark about generating creativity, deeper understanding and entrepreneurship in the face of, apparently, bulk learning by rote.

Joe Darby

Dingwall, Ross-shire