Sunday, December 30, 2007

Are teachers cheating in UK schools?

The other day, after realising that I was in book drought mode having just finished Belle de Jour's first book I decided to read something I hadn't for a long time and pulled Freakonomics off the shelf. One of the chapters of this book is about an analysis of standardised testing scores in school to spot patterns that might indicate that teachers are cheating.

The argument is certainly an elegant one. If you have a system where "bad" schools are defined as those that score lowly in tests; and those that score lowly in tests must therefore have "bad" teachers it stands to reason that some teachers might try to help their pupils out in order to keep average scores up.

Now, I have no idea whether standard testing in UK schools is carried out in the same manner as the US .i.e. pencil marks on an answer sheet which are fed into a machine. However, it did get me thinking about whether anyone had ever thought to analyse the test scores in UK schools to see if there were patterns that might indicate cheating by staff rather than the kids.

Of course, some might say such thoughts are just wrong. To accuse teachers of possibly cheating in order to stop themselves getting fired or a school being taken over would no doubt send the Unions wild. However, now that we the Soviet-esque Ten Year Plan from Ed Balls which includes yet more taking over of failing schools, perhaps now is the time to start to look at these test results?


xyz said...

Thanks Dizzy.....great article. You have put your finger on a significant issue affecting the way we educate our kids. The QCA (Qualifications & Curriculum Authority) have been infected with the New Labour vogue for political correctness. SAT scores & GCSE/A-Level scores have suffered significant inflation over the last decade. This is even accepted by the Guardian (,,1693061,00.html).

The fundamental problem is caused by (the predictable) way schools have responded to Government targets/school league tables. Schools now focus less on learning and more on teaching to the test....and yes Dizzy the system is wide open to teacher/parent "help" pre test and manipulation by teachers post test/pre scoring. Post test manipulation of scores is more difficult in the USA but even here it has lead to a phenomena where most US schools now have test results above the historic average. Politicians love this because they can bask in the warm glow of parental pride of little Jimmy getting better results than the last generation. At the same time, highly respected psychometricians/researchers such as Schafer have demonstrated that our kids today are probably about 2 years behind the school kids of the 70's (in conceptual thinking and other related abilities). So much for our modern (mechanised) education system

Anonymous said...

...or failing schools are a result of pregnant chavs.


Me said...

I don't know whether I hope they are or just don't care if they do. Having had a good education devoid of artificial targets I weep for the children of today, educated in an unimaginative desert.

Unknown said...

Unless they've changed the system a lot since I left school, no, exam papers aren't marked that way. There are some multiple-choice parts but the vast majority was free-form and marked according to a scheme that allocates points for hitting various requirements. In maths, for example, that meant things like correct stages of working out, though you would, obviously, get full marks for a question if you provided the correct answer in that case. These papers were, at least theoretically, marked by teachers from a school distant enough that bias wouldn't be a factor. This generally worked out pretty well except for the years when they changed syllabus and/or marking schema which sometimes resulted in bizarre exam scores from markers who'd clearly not kept up to date.

Coursework's where the real cheating comes in to play. The whole thing's basically built to be gamed by teachers who can be arsed. Those marks are basically worthless and several teachers have been caught with their hands in the tin, so speak.

This doesn't even start on the difference in exam standards though. A kid from now, operating only on knowledge gained at school, would be utterly knackered if given an exam paper from the 70s. The depth just doesn't seem to be the same and this is coming from someone who sat the modern exams..