Any other AS DC struggling with GCSE science mark scheme because of pragmatics? Is it discriminatory?

(134 Posts)
HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 14:01:28

DS has a statement because of his AS, specific language impairment and pragmatic difficulties. He is going into Y11 and doing relatively well in his mock GCSEs. He is really good at maths and sciences. He understands the science, but struggles to score marks because of theory of mind and pragmatics.

If you ask him explicit specific questions he would explain everything giving specialist terminology. But the questions in the exam papers are wage, indirect and convoluted. The marking scheme looks completely illogical, arbitrary to DS. From his point of view he answered correctly the question asked, but within the explicit question there were two other hidden questions and he really couldn't see them - how is he supposed to guess which other questions he is supposed to answer? There are too many other questions he could comment on, but these don't logically follow from the question asked on paper. He feels it is unfair.

For example:
Question: "Why radiator is painted black?"
DS answer: "Because black surfaces are better emitters of infrared radiation then light surfaces"
Marks: 1 out of 3. He needed to add "so higher rate of energy transfer" For DS this is self evident and contained within his answer "better emitters". He would never guess to add this. So he scores about a third of the marks!

Another example:
Question: "How would gas and nuclear power stations be used to meet the demand for electricity within 24 hours?"
DS answer: "The nuclear power station is used for baseline demand. The gas station is used to generate extra power when demand increases"
Mark: 2 out of 3. He needed to add "because of short start up time". But the question was How, not Why!

Often out of many possible valid answers the examiner only gives marks for one narrow specific answer that looks arbitrary, random to DS (even to me) in relation to the question asked. For example:

Question: "Vaccination against measles virus will not protect the child against rubella virus. Why?"
DS?s answer: "Because measles and rubella are different pathogens"
Marks: zero... not correct ???
I don't even know what the "correct" answer is but nothing in the way the question is articulated suggests that other answer. I can see what DS means by arbitrary and random mark scheme.

DS's problem is not with knowledge and understanding, but with guessing what the examiner wants. Theory of mind.

DS works very hard - 5 hours of homework and revision every day. Most of this time is dedicated to getting sense of pragmatics and mark schemes. However it doesn?t pay off. It looks to me that with exam papers like these higher marks are just unattainable for ASD DS because of pragmatic bias built in the questions.

Is DS the only one having this problem?
What can be done?

HisMum4now Fri 02-Aug-13 22:46:35

Thank you Uninformed, this helps. I was looking for these in the specification. Great.

However it makes little difference because AQA explanations are vague and woolly. So much so that even examiners themselves don’t apply them consistently. According to these descriptions the answers given in OP are valid. And the word always in the mark scheme is arbitrary. The real assessment criteria “what examiner wants” remain hidden. There is no explanation for command words "How" "Why" and "What" for example, while they are used in papers. In contrast, the description of command words from Cambridge IGCSE is very clear.

AQA definition of Describe is vague, it doesn't give any guideline or criteria for good description. It leaves it totally open to dozens of valid answers. The marks scheme becomes arbitrary:
"Students may be asked to recall some facts, events or process in an accurate way. For example they may be asked to describe an experiment they have done, or they may need to give an account of what something looked like, or what happened, eg a trend in some data."

Cambridge IGCSE definition is structured and precise. It is more clear what to do to give a good description: "
(a) Describe, the data or information given in a graph, table or diagram, requires the candidate to state the key points that can be seen in the stimulus material. Where possible, reference should be made to numbers drawn from the stimulus material.
(b) Describe, a process, requires the candidate to give a step by step written statement of what happens during the process.
Describe and explain may be coupled, as may state and explain."

This description is not written by parents of SN children, but it just makes sense.

The wooliness put huge unnecessary demands on AS DC and their families and makes results hit and miss due to inconsistency at the exam board. This is why validation is necessary.

Vanillachocolate Fri 02-Aug-13 21:25:01

This is very helpful indeed. Thank you Uninformed.

Uninformed Fri 02-Aug-13 19:15:48

I haven't read through all of the threads, but at quick glance maybe getting used to the command words on exam papers may help:
Knowing what the examiners want, for example the difference between "Evaluate" "Describe" "Explain" or "State" etc. I found the link below useful. Hope it helps.
filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-GCSE-SCIENCE-COMMAND-WORDS.PDF

Uninformed Fri 02-Aug-13 18:52:50

I haven't read through all of the threads, but at quick glance maybe getting used to the command words on exam papers may help:
Knowing what the examiners want, for example the difference between "Evaluate" "Describe" "Explain" or "State" etc. I found the link below useful. Hope it helps.
http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/subjects/AQA-GCSE-SCIENCE-COMMAND-WORDS.PDF

gobbin Wed 31-Jul-13 23:13:46

To be honest, you should be taking it up with Ofqual, not MN. We can only provide you wih opinion, not the change you desire.

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 19:35:41

I think I was clear that I agree that there is a disadvantage for high ability kids because of the arbitrary low thresholds in JCQ regulation. DC cannot get the reasonable adjustments effective for them. The way to challenge this within the current law is to take apart the unlawful basis for the blanket thresholds, which are designed not to pick up the exact issue the kids are struggling with. Within the current law if the threshold is relaxed, all disabled high achieving kids could get the right exam arrangements that work for them. The way to do it is to find a test case and to rally behind it, not to fight other SN parents. You don't need to fight me, I m not the problem.

However, if you don't see the issue with the questions for yourself, it doesn't follow it isnt't right to look into the issue and validate the questions and the mark scheme. The concern I raise is a real issue that needs to be heard for many AS DC who are not coached to death in exam technique by posh schools. This would help all kids, even NT. It wouldn't hurt anyone. Unless indeed preserving own advantage is the sole concern.

I maintain that exam papers need
- validation
- overquota of SEN kids
- expert panel of scientists
- panel of SEN people

D of E wants SEN parents to fight with each-other instead of scrutinizing them.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 31-Jul-13 17:50:30

I'm clearly concerned about the accessibility of exams to kids with SEN. Have you read any of my posts in this thread? The biggest problem at the moment however is that the new rules are discriminating against ALL high ability Kids with SEN. There are issues with particular subjects where some kids are more disadvantaged and some less but it seems to me that to focus on those issues rather than the overarching issue (which is that someone at the DfE believes that kids with SEN should not be getting A*s qua SEN) is shortsighted and a function of, to use a word you keep using (not entirely correctly), bias. If you insist on focussing on science and not considering other subjects then as far as I'm concerned the key thing that should be done is getting rid of CAs. But I can actually see that CAs aren't an issue for everyone.

creamteas Wed 31-Jul-13 17:45:04

Life is harder for DC with AS (I have two).

Although it is profoundly unfair that they will not necessarily get the GCSE grades that they are capable of achieving, as long as this doesn't stop them doing on in education, then I can live with it.

For the vast majority of people, 5Cs including English and Maths at GCSE is enough, once they have level 3 qualifications. And these are not as relevant if they go onto a degree.

My DD does try to memorize and apply exam technique rules, she is more likely than NT DC to get them wrong. We will discover this summer, just what she has managed to achieve.

But to be honest, on the things to stress and protest about around their lives this is not my highest priority.....

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 17:37:51

So you are just not personally concerned. I 've seen you being quite granular and involved about issues you are passionate about, like grammar schools etc.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 31-Jul-13 17:35:08

None of my DC perceive the questions as not being straight. Nor do I.

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 17:31:06

Russians so your AS DC would be less well off if questions were straight?

What would be the disadvantage of validating the questions?

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 31-Jul-13 17:12:04

Yes that's exactly what we are doing. Because none of us have AS kids.......oh. Wait....

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 17:11:12

So put up your list of demands.

The system demands so much from parents and DS. Why can't we have a voice?

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 17:09:41

But nobody wants to understand the particular challenges. Everybody just fires off labels and assumptions because they are not AS themselves. They can't see where the problem is, so they explain it away, now by attacking the mother

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 31-Jul-13 17:08:37

I'm afraid my shopping list of 'demands' would look completely different. I also think you are singularly failing to grasp the fact that there is no typical AS child, no typical dyspraxic, no typical dyslexic, and so on.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 31-Jul-13 17:04:59

Where we can be of help is in ensuring their teachers understand the particular challenges our kids have. Because no two kids with SEN issues are identical. Once that's achieved then the teachers are the ones who have the skills and experience to identify how to help them in the school/exam context.

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 16:59:56

Shouldn't we really do something?

On the pragmatic distortion and bias in the science exams, I seriously think we should demand that they develop better structured more correctly defined questions and answers.

For starters they should have more rigorous validation and serious way to assess impact on various disability groups.

I think it is very reasonable to expect that:
- The questions and mark schemes are piloted with an over-quota of each SN group

- Grade boundaries are defined using suitable over-quota of students for each special need group.

- Questions and answers are assessed by an expert panel of scientists (those who really do science)

- ~ an expert panel of people on autistic spectrum and each other SN groups, who know their science, to see how they react to those questions #(it is not enough that some managers from charities just tick the box that it is OK for them)

- Evaluate the impact of these questions on vulnerable minorities - how many extra hours AS DS should spend "learning exam technique" and rehearsing papers? How much time teachers should teach exam technique instead of science? How much parents would have to pay in public school and tutor fee? This is what it comes down to isn't it?

- How do distorted questions affect grade boundaries and GCSE "standards"? Maybe without woolly questions more DC would gain good qualifications and become good electricians, plumbers and mechanics?

The system should be free of distortion and bias, it shouldn't put any disability group at a disadvantage.

Copthallresident Wed 31-Jul-13 16:37:27

And russians is right we can't change the world to suit their differences, though we can try when it is downright unfair and discriminatory, but we can help them to find their own ways to cope and exploit their strengths. And we can make sure they know that means they are always going to have to work harder and smarter, SpLDs are a disability, not an excuse.

Copthallresident Wed 31-Jul-13 16:33:01

I actually think we can do more harm than good if we try to become experts on what the examiners want to support our DCs, inevitably subjectivity based on our own experiences of past exams and in my own case current university academia, creeps in, and the teachers are at the coal face now, they really do know better.

I make sure my DDs get the support they need, have a nice place to work, decent food and facilitate my dyspraxic DD to keep everything in some sort of order and to plan her work, but when they say that I don't know what it is like now, they are right.

creamteas Wed 31-Jul-13 16:30:21

Bramshott if you want a good idea about why there has been a growth of overinvolvement of parents in their child's education have a read of this.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 31-Jul-13 15:55:42

Agree. Phone. Sorry.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 31-Jul-13 15:55:12

Bramshott I tend to degree and ALL my kids have SEN (and I do myself). Exam technique is taught at schools. Exhaustively. I don't think parents should be getting involved at the sort of granular level being displayed here. We can't do it for them. It's not in their interests. Or indeed ours.

Bramshott Wed 31-Jul-13 15:30:47

Slightly off-topic, but does anyone else wonder how the hell we've got ourselves into this situation?? When I did my GCSEs back in 1990, my DM's attitude was "oh, DD is doing GCSEs - must make sure she's in bed nice and early and has regular food breaks". It just wouldn't have been within her comprehension to know what I was studying/what the examiners were looking for/what the grade boundaries were.

OP - I hope you manage to support your son to do well.

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 15:17:50

I already thanked Antracite for tips earlier in the thread.

Thanks again.

Don't call disabled DC stupid if you can't understand their problems.
Everybody should challenge discrimination, not just desperate parents.

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 15:14:07

The professionals fail to engage with the fact that the distorted questions and arbitrary answers put at a disadvantage DS with a particular disability.

Not being able to address the argument, some professionals can't offer anything better then an offensive label based on assumptions.

AS DS cannot decode "How - read-^'explain' or 'why' or 'how' = Why or How (give further evidence or knowledge using subject-specific language)^" This is what over-thinking is.

DS answers the questions that is asked - How. He can only answer the question as he understands it -^How^? If the questions is asked transparently and require analysis or synthesis, DS would go on and show all the knowledge and higher order skills. The teacher writes it is his strength in the report. He just cant show this through exam marking scheme.

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