The Value of High-stakes Exams: Do Teachers Help or Hinder?

High-stakes school exit examinations are a feature of many educational systems. The results of such examinations are used to select students for transition into higher-level education and/or training, for entry into the workplace, and for accountability purposes to judge the quality of schools and individual teachers. The results of high-stakes school exit examinations can have a profound impact on the life trajectory of students. It is not surprising, therefore, that teachers communicate the value and importance of such qualifications to their students; how can success or failure impact on one’s life chances. What impact might these communications have on students? Does it increase pressure; does it motivate and engage students to work hard; does it ultimately relate in any way to exam performance? This presentation will use findings from a 10-year programme of research undertaken in relation to the secondary school leaving qualification in England, the General Certificate of Secondary Education, to address these questions. The key finding is that students differ in the way that they interpret messages about the importance and value of their examinations. Exam value messages can be interpreted in a positive way, to inspire motivation and engagement, or a negative way to trigger threat and worry. The way that messages are interpreted determines whether they relate to educational gains or losses. We will close the presentation by considering the reasons why students interpret messages differently and what the implications are for educators of students preparing for high-stakes school exit examinations. How can we ensure they are a help rather than a hindrance.

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Posted by IAFOR