Validity issues in the reform of a practical science assessment: An English case study

Validity issues in the reform of a practical science assessment: An English case study

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Validity issues in the reform of a practical science assessment: An English case study

Whilst assessments in national examinations are frequently modified, radical change, such as changes to the overall form and style of assessment, is infrequent. However, as part of a wider reform of A-levels (qualifications taken by 18 year olds in England as preparation for university study), the assessment of practical skills and techniques in A-levels in biology, chemistry and physics will change radically from September 2015.Currently practical skills at A-level are assessed using tasks set externally but marked internally by teachers, referred to as controlled assessments. These tasks contribute to the overall grade awarded for the subject. Central to the reform of the assessment of practical skills is the separation of what we refer to as the direct assessment of practical skills (DAPS), assessed in the classroom by the teacher, from indirect assessment of practical skills (IAPS), assessed in written examinations. Additionally, the change involves giving a separate reported grade, (pass/not-classified), for the practical skills and techniques demonstrated in class, alongside the grade for the written examination. The intention is to increase the validity of the resulting grade, whilst improving the students’, competence in specified practical skills and techniques which will be of value either in the work-place or at university.In this paper we explore the factors which threaten the validity of practical assessments currently used at A-level, and the potential impact of the reforms. In order to do so we trace the development of DAPS and IAPS (Abrahams, Reiss &, Sharpe, 2013): their initial conception, their discussion within the Department for Education in England and Ofqual (a non-ministerial government department which regulates qualifications and assessments), and finally the interpretation of those policy requirements by the awarding organisations who provide the A-level examinations (Evans &, Wade, 2015).

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