Sunday, 17 May 2009

Maralyn Parker drives me nuts

The old socialist dingbat is at it again.

Luckily most Australian university courses nowadays have assessment procedures that are spread out over the semester and involve a variety of essays, presentations, tutorials, research and small tests. The one off end-of-course high pressure exam has gone. However in schools we have gone the other way. The HSC in NSW for example is a prime example of a one off big bang exam where half of a student’s score for the final year exit assessment is at stake, The pressure is increasing - even more with the looming publication of school performance data. I don’t know why we do this to our 17 and 18 year olds at a time when they are emotionally and physically vulnerable. It is so unnecessary.

This particular post was about kids taking ADHD drugs because they think doing so will improve exam performance. Maralyn, in her usually deranged and moralising way, wants to reduce the pressure on kiddies because of some anectodal "evidence" (more like hearsay) that kids are nicking their sibling's pills. I'd like to see proof of that - like making every kid sitting a certain exam to do a urine test to see who is popping what. If they catch 1 kid in 1000, so what? You chuck him out and let the rest get on with it. Trouble is, no one has done any drug testing of students (as far as I can tell), we we really have no way of sorting fact from fiction. Playground gossip is not a good place to develop education policy from.

Having to wee in a jar will certainly prepare the little dears for the real world, where quite a few workplaces now routinely test for drugs and alcohol. Fancy working on a mine, where the money is good? Get used to the idea of getting sampled on a regular basis. I've had the snoopers knock on my office door and ask me to blow in the bag, and plenty of my staff had to trundle off to the dunny to squirt out a sample.

As for the pressure of tests.... pffft. Maralyn needs to get out in the real world a bit more often. I am currently going through a certification process for my industry. I've just sat through night after night of high-pressure lectures, all done after work, meaning I have been getting home at 10pm or later for a few weeks. Talk about drinking through a fire hose. During the day, I had to find time to read 50 or 60 pages of tedious, mind-numbing technical guff before the next lecture.

That was the easy part. Now comes the exam.

It's 200 questions in 4 hours. The people setting the exams are sneaky bastards, so there is usually more than one correct answer - you have to choose the most correct answer. In some of these computer based testing systems, when you get an answer wrong, the system zeroes in on you and asks a whole battery of questions around that point to see whether you understand the topic or not. When the system detects weakness, it piles on. There are no "mid term" assesments, tutorials or any of that other fluff - the exam is 100% of your result.

If you don't know your stuff, the computer grills you mercilessly, stacking on the pressure to see if you crack or not.

Because in my game, there is no room for weaklings, duffers and WOFTAMS*. When the poo hits the fan, which it does several times per week, we need people who can keep their heads whilst those around them are losing theirs. You need to have an enormous amount of knowledge, a wheelbarrow full of experience and steady nerves. Nasty, evil, one-shot, pressurised exams quickly and cheaply determine who has the right stuff, and who doesn't.

Oh, and our pass mark is in the mid 60's - not 50%. In some exams, you might need to score 80% to pass and become certified.

I am always relaxed going into these exams because I was put through the pressure cooker at school - they screwed the lid down tight and turned up the heat every single term from grade 3 at my school. By the time we got to the equivalent of the HSC today, we had sat hundreds of high intensity exams - for not only did we do real exams every term, most teachers made us do papers from previous years in class. We'd be given an hour to complete as much of a 3 hour maths paper as possible - by the time we hit the HSC, I was able to do both my 3 hour maths papers in an hour, and still scored in the top 1/3 of the state (and that was in the most difficult maths stream). The same went for chemistry, biology, economics, history, english and so on. Our economics teacher was also lecturing at uni, so he gave us first year Economics 100 papers to do as well in the leadup to the HSC (it was called the TAE back then).

If kids are cracking these days in greater numbers, it's because they've been babied through high school. The work place is not a great place for sooks, wimps, blouses and babies. Maralyn should be thinking of ways to get them to harden the f*&k up, rather than preparing them for a world of unicorns and rainbows.

By the way, I work with an awful lot of Chinese and Indian guys and gals - they seem to find the study and certification process to be not too onerous, presumably because their parents ran them through the mill during their school years, rather than allowing them to take the Maralyn route - the low road of mediocrity and "equality".

*WOFTAM - Waste Of Fucking Time And Money.


kae said...

"There are no "mid term" assesments, tutorials or any of that other fluff - the exam is 100% of your result."

A bit like life itself. It's not a trial run.

WV: extents

BTW, Maralyn doesn't know much about uni, there are assessments, but if you fail one you can quite easily end up bombing out on all the tests and the final exam, especially if you're slack and don't bother to attend and/or do any work.

Boy on a bike said...

It's a long time since I was at uni, but some lecturers had a rule that you needed a pass mark in both your exam and your assesments. Unless you got a pass on all of them, you failed the unit. Game over. None of this "fail on one side and pass on the other". Pass everything or not at all.

Pogria said...


Here's the missing "e", in piece!


Anonymous said...

The fact that you think passing a one of high pressure test is proof that you lack any understanding of effective teaching and learning. True assessment takes place over time, under multiple circumstances and required the opportunity to improve; sure there is a place for rigorous testing however is that really in a grade 3 classroom?