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?

Whathaveiforgottentoday Wed 24-Jul-13 14:31:43

He's not alone and despite teaching science for years I am still surprised by some of the answers on the mark scheme. The grade boundaries are ludicrously low in gsce science largely because the questions are so odd at times. I'd like to see a paper that gives students a chance to show what they know rather than questions that trip them up.
On a practical level, the best way to prepare is what you are already doing and complete lots and lots of past papers and get your son to mark them himself using the mark scheme, as this is the only way to get into the examiners mind set.

creamteas Wed 24-Jul-13 14:39:13

My DC with ASD also struggle with this, their performance in exams is quite random because of this.

My DD has just taken her GCSEs this year, and the school spent a lot of time on exam technique. To be fair, many non AS DC also struggle with similar issues. Because marking schemes are so prescriptive, it is increasingly possible to give a right but not correct answer IYKWIM.

My DC's school recognizes these issues, and DD will be allowed to progress to science A levels regardless of her GCSE results, based on her teacher's assessment of her ability in science. Whilst this won't help with her CV, it will not hold her back, and so she is in a relatively good position I think.

crazymum53 Wed 24-Jul-13 15:48:22

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

xylem8 Wed 24-Jul-13 16:42:48

Honestly it is the same for all children trying to second guess what science examiners want in their answer.It is is nothing to do with his SN.My DB is a science teacher and 2 my DSs have done the 3 science s at GCSE and it is the bane of science teacher and science students lives!

NoComet Wed 24-Jul-13 17:10:07

I have a dyslexic DD and she seems to manage science most of the time, but is having similar trouble with the very prescriptive answers need for Geography. It doesn't matter if you understand something, you just have to remeber the type example word for word, marks deducted for poor spelling and grammar angry

She has a very very bright DF who's science teacher has to keep repeating "that's right, but for the purpose of GCSE, the answer is ......". Insert dumbed down exact phrase the mark scheme will allow.

I think it's due to a move to dumb down marking, make it defensible and marks close to 100% for an A* possible.

Non of this rubbish happened in our old style long essay questions, the examiners could give credit for understanding as well as dry facts.

HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 19:32:04

Non of this rubbish happened in our old style long essay questions, the examiners could give credit for understanding as well as dry facts.

This resonates

HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 19:35:57

Any examiners, exam board people here?

timidviper Wed 24-Jul-13 19:36:07

I agree this is not to do with SN. My DS has no special needs yet had exactly the same problem, one of his teachers taught him the strategy crazymum suggests of 1 sentence per mark, think of key words, etc. He did brilliantly once he learned to do this

HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 19:41:33

Well, this is exactly the difference between SN and no n SN.

Non AS dc will just learn the exam technique, get "what examiner wants" and score marks.

AS dc don't. DS doesn't understand why the answer in the MS is there given how the question is phrased. AS DS doesn't get the examiner mindset and wouldn't include any sentences that are not part of his own logic and thinking process. The question should be less broad and trivial, more targeted.

DS1 has this exact problem with KS3 Science and he is neurotypical. DS2 has AS but is still only 11; he has a tricky time with this style of question already, especially in English.

I have found some Science past papers with their mark schemes, to help DS1 spot key words and patterns in what the marker is looking for.

DH and I were both in the second year to do GCSE, so you can imagine how arbitrary the questions and mark schemes appeared to us when they were first introduced. DH refers to it as "Where would you put the power station?" questions, which is our family shorthand for this type of testing.

I'm v.glad that the secondary school has changed over to doing iGCSE for Science subjects.

HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 23:01:36

Please tell me about iGCSE, how are exam papers different?

NoComet Thu 25-Jul-13 02:20:25

"AS dc don't. DS doesn't understand why the answer in the MS is there given how the question is phrased. AS DS doesn't get the examiner mindset and wouldn't include any sentences that are not part of his own logic and thinking process."

I think this applies to all good scientists. Any pupil who actually understands the work and is not just learning it parrot fashion has exactly the same problem.

To truly understand something you put it your own words and in the context of you own experience. Trying to unravel this process and put it in someone else's words is very difficult even if you are NT.

Also many good scientists are not totally NT, DD1 and I are dyslexic and I suspect many scientists have shades of AS. Understanding people is not something most scientists do well. Subtle social niceties pass us by, but obscure facts don't.

circular Thu 25-Jul-13 05:57:56

Can relate to this too with DD1 (yr11), but more in Geography than science. Half marks or less for getting 'correct' answer, but then have to give what the teacher refers to as a 'so what' for everything. Took her about a year toget the hang of it, but still slips up.

Also completely thrown this year by change in style of OCR gateway Physics paper, included a crossword.

No SN, or diagnosed dyslexia (DH slightly dyslexic), but an immature writer.

Yes, Geography is even worse! On several questions in the end of Y8 exam, DS1 had answered the question correctly, but hadn't used the phrasing or keywords expected by the mark scheme, so got few or no marks. He ended up getting less than 50% in an exam that he had revised for and knew and understood the syllabus. It has completely put him off Geography and he can't wait to give it up.

In answer to the question about iGCSEs, he doesn't start the courses until January, but from the information I have been given, there is no coursework, no assessments apart from at the end of Y11, and the questions are supposed to be more like O-level in style. Hopefully less of the "Where would you put the power station?" and more of the "Define a redox reaction and give an example."

Oblomov Thu 25-Jul-13 08:54:43

Very interesting.
Ds1 is AS and although young, already struggles. Reading with interest.

gobbin Thu 25-Jul-13 09:11:37

Found the same last year preparing for GCSEs in Yr 10. It's just exam technique for these particular exams. Science, Geog, English and History are the same.

This year DS found this last lot of exams a bit easier because he'd got into the habit of making his point, explaining it further, then adding in anything else that seemed logical or obvious that he might have missed. He also got into the flow of 'What - How - Why' to develop longer answers.

In History, with questions like 'What do you understand about Nazi churches from Source A' he would miss out the obvious stuff like 'it has an altar draped in a Nazi flag with a picture of Adolf Hitler on top' which was worth easy marks and go straight into why/how explanation (which was also needed, but he'd lose marks for not stating what he could see first). Nuts!

Crumbledwalnuts Thu 25-Jul-13 09:16:25

Isn't this so that marking can be done by people without understanding of the science?

Is there any chance that IGCSE is different, can you investigate this option? It's supposed to be more like old o levels. It might cost about 100 per exam to enter him separately.

Crumbledwalnuts Thu 25-Jul-13 09:16:47

Oh I'm so sorry I will read the thread more closely.

SprinkleLiberally Thu 25-Jul-13 09:27:05

Agree this is a problem for many children, with and without sen. It occurs in subjects mentioned already. Science, geog and history especially. Many pupils don't understand why they can get higher grades with much more ease in subjects where the questions contain less "hidden" content.
It also foxes smt in schools who observe lessons and note the excellent teaching and learning but it not always translating into automatic high grades. Exam practice is the only way. I feel your pain though.

HisMum4now Thu 25-Jul-13 11:57:59

I would really like to look closely ti iGCSEs as from the first sight question look more accessible to AS DS.

We had a discussion at school and the teacher argue that if DS struggles with GCSE questions, he wouldn't cope with A levels. I tell them in is the contrary, questions in A level paper are logical, better defined, not distorted by pragmatics to the same extent as GCSEs. I gave A level Physics paper to DS and he coped very well. He didn't know all the facts but he didn't stumble on "where do you put the power station". The teachers don't understand.

HisMum4now Thu 25-Jul-13 12:26:29

Could anyone comment on the point made by Whathaveiforgotten - that ill defined questions like this bring down grade boundaries.

So to raise standards, i.e. to raise the grade boundaries, Gove should ask to remove distorted questions like this instead of making exam boards adding more of ill thought through questions in the hurry.

Anyone from exam boards?

Crumbledwalnuts Thu 25-Jul-13 12:34:39

I think he'd be met by a storm of protest. Woolliness is considered inclusive and extending thinking and such.

HisMum4now Thu 25-Jul-13 13:05:57

What are the assumptions for the thinking that it is inclusive and expanding minds? These assumptions are flawed and not working if these question bring down grade boundaries.

Why is it inclusive? It certainly excludes very bright and hard working AS and non-SN dc who know and can apply science, but struggle with pragmatics because it goes against the scientific logic, the thinking process that is integral to good science. Many people commented here that many DC with good scientific mind stumble over those woolly questions. To be inclusive they could formulate easier questions.

Science exams should select those who are good at science, who are likely to choose STEM subjects as a career and go to innovate and discover. Music exams should favour good musicians, dance exam should favour good dancers. How is it inclusive and extending mind if the exam penalizes the very people it is supposed to encourage.

How wooliness extends thinking? Thinking about what? These are science exams, not RE. Does it extend anything else than the ability to memorize past papers and mark scheme? Because this is what the woolly questions are testing - the ability to memorize and to guess what -examiners twisted- mind wants, not the knowledge and ability to apply science. These are two different skills and I would argue they are incompatible in one person. For the sake of argument, either you are Einstein type or you are Tony Blair type, but not both in one person.

Crumbledwalnuts Thu 25-Jul-13 13:07:52

What are the assumptions for the thinking that it is inclusive and expanding minds?

It's woolly thinking to start with. General woolliness that allows everyone to gravitate to the mediocre and to standard thought. It is beloved of the educational establishment I believe. I agree with you btw.

chrome100 Fri 26-Jul-13 17:44:52

On the other side of the coin, I did exceptionally well at science GCSE despite not understanding any of it!! This is because I spent hours learning answers word for word and churning them out in the exam. I think it's ludicrous you can "cheat" a system like this - a well written exam should test your understanding of something, not your memory of it.

HisMum4now Fri 26-Jul-13 21:33:04

Very surprising that there are no comments from teachers and examiners.

Woopdedo Fri 26-Jul-13 21:59:51

Just to comment specifically on the vaccination question. I can see why your DS thinks that 'because they are different pathogens' is correct, however from a teachers point of view, it doesn't answer the question to a sufficient level, that would demonstrate his understanding of the science that he has leant at GCSE.
I would expect him to actually say why this would be the case - why the vaccine of one pathogen would not protect against another pathogen. To say 'because they are different' could be answered by a primary school student. Remember the whole point of the exam is to demonstrate understanding of the GCSE syllabus.
I would expect him to demonstrate his understanding of antigens, complementary shapes, anti bodies etc, using key words. Also look at how many marks it is worth. If its worth several, than saying they are different wouldn't get more than one anyway. Saying the 'antigen' is a different shape would.
I have taught many students that sound similar to your DS, and it is a struggle in science, as they clearly have an excellent scientific mind, yet fail to demonstrate this in the exam. Perhaps writing down key words to try and use in each answer might help him, or ask him to elaborate on each point made - state the 'obvious' and then add more information. Also look at how many marks are awarded and make a valid point for each one. Ask himself 'why' after each point made.
Sadly these type of questions will become more of a problem if he takes A level science as they are worth more marks.
Hope that helps.

Whathaveiforgottentoday Fri 26-Jul-13 22:04:45

I commented and I'm both a teacher and an examiner (but I don't examine GCSE science).

I examine at A level and it was for precisely the reason in your post that I decided to apply to be an examiner. Gives you a great insight into what they are looking for.

I completely agree with your concerns about GCSE science. I often see answers that are correct but are not one of the answers allowed on the mark scheme. Very bright students often miss the easier details, going straight in for the more difficult parts of the question.

Be careful and and focus on the words in the question such as 'describe', evaluate, explain etc as they are very precise. For example, if you explain (say a graph) rather than just describing the pattern, when the question asks you to describe, you lose all the marks. Again, lots of exam practise is the way forward. Don't give 2 answers if it only asks for 1 answer.

Crumbledwalnuts Sat 27-Jul-13 20:10:29

"Be careful and and focus on the words in the question such as 'describe', evaluate, explain etc as they are very precise. For example, if you explain (say a graph) rather than just describing the pattern, when the question asks you to describe, you lose all the marks. Again, lots of exam practise is the way forward. Don't give 2 answers if it only asks for 1 answer."

That's just dumb. Not your fault obviously. But how ludicrous.

HisMum4now Sat 27-Jul-13 22:45:24

"from a teachers point of view, it doesn't answer the question to a sufficient level"
I see, but why is it legitimate to apply the filter of teacher's point of view? Have anyone questioned that? Students answer questions from their own point of view, looking through their own eyes and though their own thinking process. They answer questions from the scientific point of view. It is the intended purpose of the exam to get them thinking and applying knowledge through their own mind, not to second guess the teachers' point of view. What is described as "teachers's point of view" distorts the logic of the question and that of the answer. This type of teacher's point of view is neither relevant nor legitimate. A scientifically valid answer should stand on its own in any context. There shouldn't be "this is the correct answer" and "this is the answer for the teachers".

"... that would demonstrate his understanding of the science that he has learnt at GCSE." There is a huge leap from asking a distorted question "from_teachers_point_of_view" and assuming that it demonstrates real understanding of science learned and ability to apply it. This is a very flawed assumption. By definition if you ask the question "from_teachers_point_of_view" and only accept "the_answer_desirable_from_teachers'_point_of_view" - it only demonstrate that the student can guess / memorize the teachers' point of view. A skewed experiment provides skewed results. The teachers who know their science would understand that this experiment (i.e. question-answer) is not designed to test any science , it is designed to test the guessing what teachers want, pragmatics, theory of mind, plain memorizing. Teachers who really believe those flawed question test knowledge and ability only do so because they are incompetent at science. This makes those questions flawed.

"I would expect him to actually say why this would be the case"
So why don't they ask this in the question? If their is an expectation it should be communicated. Their is always a way to ask not leading better defined questions. Incidentally, he did say it was because they are different pathogens.

"To say 'because they are different' could be answered by a primary school student."
DS answered "because they are different pathogens". Not only this demonstrates correct terminology for a 1 mark question, it is also the nutshell of the correct scientific explanation. If you would only be allowed to say one thing, "different pathogens" is the most concise incisive answer, right to the point. Explanation about specific antibodies is a further detail , which the question does not require because it is a 1 mark question. If they want to hear about antigens and antibodies, they should ask the question differently. The mark scheme is arbitrary and bias towards teachers set of skills and priorities.

GCSE syllabus - this is the jargon for teachers and only the teachers are interested in it. It should not be the concern for the student. The syllabus is not inherent to the logical thinking about a scientific question. Newton and Einstein didn't keep in mind the syllabus. Flawed perspective, wrong priority.

"... I taught many students that sound similar to your DS, and it is a struggle in science, as they clearly have an excellent scientific mind, yet fail to demonstrate this in the exam" Isn't this evidence that the exam is flawed and not fit for purpose? Somebody up the thread commented that they did brilliantly in exams without understanding any science, just by memorizing mark schemes from past papers.

Wooly questions introduce pragmatic bias and distort the science. They go cross purpose with the logic of science and student's thinking process. They penalize those who "clearly have an excellent scientific mind ". They are discriminatory because they disproportionately affect ASD population because of their disability, putting higher marks out of reach, for reasons unrelated to science knowledge and ability to apply it. Their is no legitimate reason for this discrimination.

"Sadly these type of questions will become more of a problem if he takes A level science." This is an assumption deriving from the flawed assumption that the question test knowledge. DS finds A-level questions and IGCSE questions much easier because they are more correctly defined.

Exam questions should be free of bias and distortion. The mark scheme should not be arbitrary. Teachers marking papers should be given more discretion.

There shouldn't be a discriminatory disadvantage for a particular set of disabilities.

HisMum4now Sat 27-Jul-13 23:17:23

Be careful and and focus on the words in the question such as 'describe', evaluate, explain etc as they are very precise. For example, if you explain (say a graph) rather than just describing the pattern, when the question asks you to describe, you lose all the marks. Again, lots of exam practice is the way forward. Don't give 2 answers if it only asks for 1 answer.

I appreciate the advice and all the points of view. This is helpful [to some extent]. I don't mean to criticize anyone personally.

However, this exam technique is not working for AS Dc. The point is that autistic Dc cannot possibly follow this distorted thinking path. This path is not intrinsic to the question as it is articulated and not integral to the thinking process about the science content. It is not intrinsic and counterproductive even for a scientifically minded 'normal' logic. It is really a huge arbitrary deviation.

Autistic DC wouldn't guess which way to deviate - any direction out of 360 degrees is equally arbitrary for them, unless it is integral to their thinking process. Autistic DC would improve with exam technique, but only so far, mostly by memorising. They will always be at a disadvantage because the logic underlying this "teachers mindset" is a distortion and unnecessary to the science. It only finds justification in the collective group think.

The questions are weighted excessively towards pragmatics, theory of mind, ability to guess and focus on what examiner wants. To the extent that is not justified by the science and only serves the comfort and accepted beliefs of the system.

This has discriminatory effect on autistic population.

Copthallresident Sun 28-Jul-13 11:58:59

Op I'm afraid the discriminatory nature of the exam system for those with SpLDs is only going to get worse. On the dyslexic side as well as increasing the emphasis on spelling and grammar they have now introduced a stipulation that evidence of need for extra time for a pupil is dependent on them having working memory and processing scores in the below average range, in spite of the fact that at a meeting representatives of independent School Associations, Dyslexia association, ed psychs etc pointed out that this discriminates against the very bright Dyslexics, for whom average or above average processing and working memory scores still represent a significant disability, certainly greater than for a Dyslexic of average intelligence. It is the gap between ability and processing and working memory skills that is the issue not the absolute level of the latter. The exam boards response was that after all many pupils without SpLDs would like extra time for checking, clearly no longer interested in sticking with the principle of levelling the playing field. We were put in the position of having to provide additional evidence of need with 6 weeks to go to my DDs AS, to enable her to continue to have the extra time she had at GCSE, something many schools and families would not have the resources to do.

She did manage an A in Double Science though, without extra time and without a scientific brain, as well as problems with processing and working memory.

Good luck to your DS.

Copthallresident Sun 28-Jul-13 12:54:10

Sad to see some of the looking back at O levels through rose tinted specs here. When I took them in the 70s they were complete tests of regurgitation, especially my weird amalgam O level Physics with Chemistry. The teachers at our direct grant grammar had so little regard for their academic worth that they didn't regard it as worthwhile sitting them in our A level subjects, instead we progressed straight to the A level course. There was a reason Sir Keith Joseph ditched them.

in my own subject, History my DDS have had a chance to develop historical skills that I didn't have a chance to gain and utilise until A level and even university. There is a need to develop GCSEs to meet the needs of employers and universities in the 21st century, in conjunction with them and the educational professionals. What a shame to have lost that opportunity to the narrow ideas of a few people who have gained temporary power at the DofE.

bruffin Sun 28-Jul-13 13:13:14

Olevel chemistry wasn't a regurgitation of memory. in 1979 at least 35% of the paper was hydrolysis and calculations.

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 13:28:38

Obviousely we can't return to O levels. I think they were more structured and students could right more in open questions, so the teachers had some discretion to judge whether students understood the topic.

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 13:29:08

could write

Whathaveiforgottentoday Sun 28-Jul-13 13:35:04

OP, Can I point out that teachers do not set the exam, exam boards do this. 'Teachers' get as frustrated as you do and if the teachers do practise test in class and mark to the mark scheme it's so the students are prepared.
However I would say writing exams is not easy and exams mark schemes must be able to ensure consistency so all examiners mark to the same standard, soprocedures are very rigorous. In doing this sometimes it is difficult to cover all possible interpretations. Following an exam the senior team do mark and modify the mark scheme in cases where students have interpreted questions in a different but equally correct way to ensure fairness.
A great deal of students underestimate the level of detail required in and this is by far the most common reason for losing marks. This continues at at A level. Another common problem is where a topic is covered at ks3 and gcse, a simplistic answer just using ks3 knowledge often doesn't have the detail to gain marks at gsce. Using correct terminology is important and is an important skills. Most mark schemes do accept that if the student can fully explain without the key word than they will be given credit for the answer.
As an examiner, I do contact my team leader regularly while I'm marking to clarify on any any answers that I feel could be given credit but are not given on the mark scheme. This is just considered good practise for examiners.
However , I will say again that I don't disagree with your concerns and would like to see papers with greater clarity enabling students to show what they know, rather than just showing they can answer exam questions.

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 13:41:17

JCQ regulation is also not fit for purpose, it is a very bland instrument that doesn't offer the right adaptation for the problem. The exam arrangements do not address the nature of disadvantage. Extra time is good for some, but will not solve all the problems.

The basis is flawed, because if extra time is given only for slow processing, one could argue it gives a leg up for those with low ability and leaves those with high ability and specific difficulties at a disadvantage.

By law the definition of a reasonable adjustment is that it should be effective.

Copthallresident Sun 28-Jul-13 13:46:24

bruffin Well here I am with a grade 1 (then the highest grade) O level in Physics with Chemistry (1973) and I haven't a clue what you are talking about, unlike in Maths where a Grade 1 has been the basis for me to pick up the Maths I needed to pass master's modules in statistics, modelling and micro economics as well as in a business career.

Open ended questions like, in my O level History, "What factors led to the passing of the Reform Acts" which required by way of answer simply a list of parliamentary and political processes and actions. No analysis of the economic and social context, or even the wider political context, no real understanding of why reform happened at that point in our History in contrast to what would be asked now, To what extent was the 1832 Reform Act a turning point?

bruffin Sun 28-Jul-13 15:56:18

Sorry I meant electrolysis not hydrolysis.

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 16:36:17

Yes, I understand that it is not down to individual teachers. Teachers don't necessarily approve of the questions individually or even collectively as I doubt they voted for the questions. However collectively the teachers do get some input in the system. Aren't the examiners former teachers? The teachers are closer to students and should develop some awareness of the problem and do something. Many comments just deny the problem and put the onus on the student to fix it.

I would expect the exam papers to be validated somehow. However I wonder whether the validation method would stand to scrutiny if the people who validated the questions share the same set of beliefs and assumptions as the people who designed them.

- Did they run a correctly designed pilot?
- Did they have and expert panel of scientists (those who really do science)?
- Did they have an expert panel of people on autistic spectrum who know their science to see how they react to those questions?
- Did they evaluate the impact of these questions on minorities with different special needs?
- Did they evaluate the impact on anyone - why grade boundaries are so low and why so many students don't get good GCSEs?
- Did they test any other hypothesis then poor teaching, and lazy pupils?

The system shouldn't have a built in bias against a particular set of disabilities.

It is very easy to articulate better defined questions, they are already doing this to some extent in IGCSEs. In many countries they do oral exams. Teachers can follow-up with very difficult non leading questions to check whether DC understand and can apply the knowledge vs just guessing what examiner wants. Disabled students already have exam arrangements, why not pilot arrangements that work?

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 16:47:23

You can't structure science questions the same way as history or politics questions. Unlike in politics, in science their is a right and a wrong answer. The thinking method is totally different. There is the scientific method and there is a language of science - mathematics. Woolly questions test the wrong skills. The skills that lead to success in a science career are totally different to the skills and way of thinking in politics, journalism or teaching.

People who filter their thought process through the lens of how other people will receive their ideas are less likely to discover that Earth is not flat.

bruffin Sun 28-Jul-13 18:22:32

But everyone is different, one of my dS's friends has aspergers and has never had a problem with science exams and got all A* s and is doing well in his A levels. My Ds is dyslexic and struggled with MFL exams because he can't memorise long tracts which is basically what happens in modern mfl exams. His dyslexia does affect his overall score despite him getting extra time.

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 18:55:41

Boffin, how do you know he never had problems? Did he read this thread and said he can't relate to this?

How much extra effort and extra coaching did it take him at the expense of learning other skills and maybe getting A* in other subjects? Was it single science or triple? Those taking triple science are penalized three times.

To get A* you need to score as little as 36% of marks according to some grades boundaries. It is possible to score A* without answering any of the tricky pragmatic questions. The point is, had he lost one more mark, he could have had an A. If grade boundaries go up - which is happening under pressure from government, AS Dc will be left stranded in A territory. This means he wouldn't be able to go to some universities. Aspies will always loose more marks that non aspies because of pragmatics.

I am sorry I don't know enough about dyslexia to comment on your DC difficulty with MFL exam. Do you mean he knows his MFL, can read, write and speak well, just can't do exams? Or is Dyslexia a barrier to learn a language?

The ability to read, speak and write in the language is the skill being supposedly tested in an MFL exam. In the science exam, pragmatics is not the skill being tested. AS is not a barrier to learn science.

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 18:58:09

Sorry, I think it was 36 marks out of 60 - just over half of the answers correct and you get an A* shock

bruffin Sun 28-Jul-13 19:33:07

To get A you need to score as little as 36% of marks according to some grades boundaries.*

No you don't, that's complete nonsense, for science papers its around 80% , 36% wouldn't get you a D let alone an A star. The lowest i could find for 2012 was a chemistry paper which was 29/36 which 80% and one of the physics papers was 94%. 34/36.

He took triple and got 12 a* for his gcses. My son has been in his class since yr 7 and i can tell you he doesnt struggle with science exams and also has one every prize going for sciences.

Dyslexia doesnt stop you learning a language, the style of MFL exam stops my DS from getting decent marks in mfl. Other dyslexics can do ok, just as my ds's friend with aspergers does really well in science exams (and every other exam he takes) whereas others may struggle. Every child is different even within the same diagnosis.

bruffin Sun 28-Jul-13 19:37:29

won not one

Copthallresident Sun 28-Jul-13 21:10:48

That is absolutely the case Bruffin. having a SpLD isn't a particular learning difficulty or a particular spectrum of problems, it is a range of problems on a spectrum and being ASD is on that spectrum. I have two children with SpLDs, both Dyslexic and one also has problems that would label Dyspraxia. One has two MFLs AT A* at GCSE but she has a photographic memory, possibly developed to compensate for an auditory memory below the tenth percentile. DD2 struggled with one MFL and scored A*/ A, with a lot of hard work memorising vocab, on everything but the coursework which required her to memorise large tracts of French to regurgitate in test conditions, she got a D and it dragged her down to a B. Both were very motivated to learn languages because we have lived overseas.

The irony of all this is that whilst Gove et al believe that they have to limit the arrangements to level the playing field for our DCs, the MoD are apparently going out of their way to recruit and facilitate the working world for those with SpLDs because they have particular strengths to offer in code breaking and intelligence work. Growing up as a Dyslexic in the 70s was difficult and whilst I developed coping strategies I always did wonder why I could be so "stupid" some of the time and so ahead of the thinking on others. However a mediocre performance at O level and to a lesser extent A level didn't stop me getting to a good university where my thinking skills came into their own. I worry Gove could deny those chances to a new gereation of those with SpLDs.

NoSelfControl Sun 28-Jul-13 21:14:32

The OP is correct regarding grade boundaries being low - AQA Chemistry Higher Paper Jan 2013 students needed 29/60 for an A and only 9/60 for a D. This is then converted to UMS where 90 is an A*, 80 is an A etc.
I examine Science GCSE Higher papers for both of the major exam boards as well as being a full time teacher. I have found it soooooo helpful for my classes and for the department in general. I do think some of the questions are misleading but it reassures me that the mark scheme is only finalised after hundreds (thousands? - I'm not important enough to be involved in this!) of papers are looked at so the final mark scheme does take into account the many strange (but correct) answers that students may give. You are also allowed to use discretion - so if a student does give an A Level style answer you can definitely give them credit (providing it is correct of course). For the most part I have found with my students that most of them drop marks by not reading the question properly (describing not explaining etc) and when we go through it afterwards they kick themselves for not getting the answer correct. Also, similar to your DS they don't quite take the answer far enough - the vaccination question you mentioned being the classic example (this was in our mock this year - loads got it "wrong"). I always say to the students "So what?" - yes, different pathogens so what does that mean? You won't lose any marks for writing more than you think is necessary (unless the additional info contains major scientific errors or contradictions).
Sorry - what a ramble! The best advice as a teacher and an examiner I can give is keep on with the revision, underline the action words in the question (as someone else suggested I think - describe, explain, evaluate) and take the time to really read all of the information given in the questions (sounds so obvious but so many students are so keen to get going they miss easy marks) and don't get too stressed over missing a few marks as rightly or wrongly the grade boundaries are fairly low.
If your DS has a controlled assessment coming up for science it may be worth talking to the school about preparing him properly for that - a good CA mark may take the pressure off (I also moderate one exam board and teach the other so happy to give advice!)

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 21:33:14

I totally agree that the style of questions would affect different Dc with different learning styles differently, yet with a very real impact. I totally take on board your concerns about dyslexic Dc, as you are the experts.

I am less clear what Bruffin means with the example of the other AS boy. He and his mum are not here to speak on his behalf. Only they really know how he is affected and what does it take them to get those A*. Science prizes supposedly are not given for pragmatics, so there is no reason why bright AS DC wouldn't get prizes. My DS is 98% in ability and does well in a grammar school. The problem I am referring to cannot be trivialized down to the level of ability.

I also find it upsetting when people talk on behalf of other DC with disabilities telling they don't have any problems and are just dense and lazy. This is a very convenient assumption to maintain flawed exam papers.

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 21:34:46

Bruffin, we are probably talking about different exam boards. The total number of marks per AQA paper is 60...

Whathaveiforgottentoday Sun 28-Jul-13 21:52:57

Bruffin, the pass marks have been very low for some higher papers in aqa science. C grade was 12/60 for a C and 21/60 for a B 'for the core physics paper last jan so 36/60 very plausible for an a*.
Personally think its silly, need to make the paper more straight forward and make pass marks higher.

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 22:02:06

Thank you NoSelfControl for your insight.

DS used to score level 8a in year 9 and scored A* is tests in year 10. However with the higher grade boundaries being pushed by Gove, the mock exams were hit and miss with mostly A and one A*. DS revises very hard and spends so much time going over and over the past papers and mark schemes that I am worried he hit a wall. All of the marks he looses are due to pragmatics. The problem is he can't derive any systematic reusable wisdom from the mark scheme. He doesn't seem to be getting any coaching on exam technique, the grammar school he is going to probably thinks it is beneath them.

On the CA he scored 47 out of 50 with a lot of preparation at home. The exams questions are obviously unpredictable.

HisMum4now Sun 28-Jul-13 22:05:06

Do they look how different SEN DC answer the questions before finalizing the mark scheme? They should consider and over quota of various SEN groups in their calibration.

NoSelfControl Sun 28-Jul-13 22:39:56

To be honest I don't think the exam boards would have any personal info about the students at all - this sounds awful but when we mark they are just a number (but I promise you it is taken very seriously). It would be up to the individual centre to apply for any special considerations. From a teaching point of view I never have to supply the exam boards with any SEN info. Your DS sounds like he will get brilliant grades - A* coursework mark plus hitting A and A* in mocks etc plus having such a caring parent to help support with all of the exams now at the end of year 11. Gove may be a massive wanker but I do believe that the kids that deserve the high grades will get them (this may be the vino talking!). Good luck with everything, PM me if you need anything for your DS I have loads of revision stuff if he finds any particular area tricky

bruffin Mon 29-Jul-13 00:02:51

I'm talking away and if you look at all the papers they took in 2012 one paper is 65% the other two papers are around 80%. It is impossible to get an A* overall by getting 65%.
There are so many Sen it's possible to please everyone, by favoring one Sen you may be biased against others. As I said my D's, SEN causes him to lose marks, he often misreads math's papers and makes silly mistakes.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 29-Jul-13 08:20:46

Many many kids with SEN are now told my Agove and his minions that they don't have SEN - because they are too bright and do too well on the tests even with their SEN. The DfE doesn't care that they would do even better without their SEN. They also believe that kids with SEN such as dyspraxia shouldn't be getting A*s, that A*s aren't for kids like them - or at least, this was what we were told when Dd1 was re-evaluated before her GCSE exams - the Ed Psych doing the re-evaluation had recently been at a big meeting with DfE reps, where Ed psychs were trying to explain to the reps why it ws so wrong to be tightening up the rules in the way they have and why it was discriminatory to A* SEN kids - and that was what they were told. Now, maybe it was just that guy. But, in the light of the fact that the way they are handling things now is clearly discriminatory against the brightest SEN kids - I don't think it is just that one guy.

Kids in posh schools still seem to end up with the appropriate support and concessions though - as discussed in many threads on here. So it's not all kids with SEN that are being targeted. Just state school kids with SEN. Funny that.

As for science, specifically - ever since they introduced CAs science has been clearly discriminatory against kids with dyspraxia. sad

Copthallresident Mon 29-Jul-13 10:11:01

no self definitely the vino talking. I can assure you that Dyslexic kids with reasoning scores in the top 0.02% of the population can and do miss the top grades, even with extra time. Misreading questions, silly errors, not spotting mistakes when checking, imperfect recall, slow reading and writing not fully compensated for by the maximum 25% extra time, extreme anxiety in exam conditions can all contribute to failing to do well, something that will be amplified when everything rests on one terminal exam.

Whathaveiforgottentoday Mon 29-Jul-13 10:23:56

agree with copthall and would add that for some of the very brightest kids with dyslexia it is during their A levels that they see the greatest impact. I've taught 2 students diagnosed with dyslexia in year 12, because they had coped so well up to gsce's that the specific difficulties hadn't been picked up. I would hate to see them lose their extra time in their A level exams - for one student I clearly remember her saying the extra time gave her the confidence to relax and read the paper carefully without the panic of knowing she was running out of time.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 29-Jul-13 10:36:23

noself Sadly you are completely and utterly wrong there. sad

creamteas Mon 29-Jul-13 11:00:13

If you want a clear case of discrimination against kids with SEN, look no further than the compulsory marks for spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSE exams such as geography.

My DD is entitled to a scribe, that means she automatically loses some of these marks. Whilst she can be awarded marks for punctuation and grammar if it is dictated, the only way to get the marks for spelling would be to literally spell out every word letter by letter. This is not actually possible in the time given for the exam.

How fair is that?

HisMum4now Mon 29-Jul-13 12:56:46

DC with disability have the legally protected right to equality. It is not the question of "pleasing everyone", but a question of abiding by equality legislation and make sure exams are free from discrimination.

If the system put other DC at a disadvantage for the reason related to their disability surely the parents should question the system, not to kick DC who are more vulnerable to make themselves feel better.

HisMum4now Mon 29-Jul-13 13:00:32

making sure

moonbells Mon 29-Jul-13 13:35:52

I looked at the initial questions and could not for the life of me see why the vaccine answer was wrong.

I have three physical science degrees and 24 years of experience in the field. And yes, I'm probably slightly aspie and take things very much at face value. I did O and A levels in the 80s if that helps at all.

But imprecise questions make me see red. I'm with the OP on this one. If the examiners want someone to say why as well as how, then they should be asking how and why, not expecting the poor children to have a degree in psychology first!

And I keep hearing that kids spend a considerable time these days learning exam technique. Why? If they asked the questions correctly and succinctly, they would have more lessons on content not technique and be able to learn more!

argh (bangs head against wall)

Anthracite Mon 29-Jul-13 17:19:32

The OP should contact the exams officer regarding access arrangements. Her DS could benefit from an oral language modifier, for example.

He should also be mindful of the number of marks available for the question. A 3-mark question is going to need more than a simple statement. He also needs to know what is expected from questions that as to state vs explain.

If her DS knows facts, can explain them, can apply knowledge to new situations, the exam system should be able to accommodate him via access arrangements. He should be allowed to reach his full potential.

HisMum4now Mon 29-Jul-13 18:12:58

I would speak with that office again. Thanks. What else could I do?

HisMum4now Mon 29-Jul-13 18:18:37

The access arrangements are not addressing the right problem with the right tool. For oral language modifier there is a threshold - DC should be significantly below average in comprehension of normal text. This would be in the range of somebody with very low IQ and severe learning difficulties. It is measured by reading small text extracts fit for primary school. My clever DS can understand those basic texts, so he can't qualify for the oral language modifier. Here again it is totally flawed, because the demands on pragmatics/theory of mind in science exams questions are of totally different kind and different magnitude than in those simplistic texts.
DS has speech therapist report and the school can submit plenty of examples why he needs the oral modifier. But they are not allowed to submit that without hitting the comprehension threshold that is deliberately set too low for high ability students.

This test is not at all designed to register DS problem, but it doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist or that it is not significant. DS cannot access full marks, so he is at a disadvantage.

The argument that it would give my bright DS an unfair advantage is disingenuous, because for the moment the system does give an unfair advantage to those with significant deficiency in comprehension. I don't mean DC with severe learning difficulties should not get exam arrangements. They should. I am arguing that all disabled DC should get arrangements that are fit for them and remove the discrimination. It is not a zero sum game.

Sometimes I feel the system is designed to keep the disadvantage for SEN DC to keep them 'in their place'. But then I think that the system is so flawed and dysfunctional, nobody has a clue whether it works and how.

Anyway it is not clear how oral language modifier would work - maybe the modified questions would be even woollier? It wouldn't help with the mark scheme either.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 29-Jul-13 18:34:39

I think lots of us have a clue whether the system works, actually. We know it doesn't.

Anthracite Mon 29-Jul-13 18:40:01

Oral language modifier simply needs to be a normal way of working.

In class, when doing exam practice (or any type of questioning) does his teacher rephrase questions and prompt for explain questions? This is a natural part of teaching.

The school might fob you off if they don't want to direct the resources, which would be a science teacher plus invigilator for just him.

Anthracite Mon 29-Jul-13 18:52:19

Access arrangements are precisely for a bright student who, for whatever reasons, cannot play the game express themselves. They can't get what is in their brain onto paper.

Do not assume that access arrangements are only for weaker students. They are designed to let every student reach their potential.

Your DS knows that black surfaces are good emitters of radiation. He understands that the purpose of a radiator is to transfer energy at a fast rate, therefore a black radiator is most efficient. Access arrangements should be able to get this knowledge onto paper. No matter how good access arrangements are, a weak student will not get all the marks.

Your DS seems to have a problem with exam technique. He assumes that anything that is common sense doesn't need to be mentioned. Most students can be trained to mention it anyway. Perhaps your DS will respond to exam technique training. If not, you should absolutely use access arrangements. It simply means his teacher keeping a few records of helping him in class, as well as doing the full monty in his mocks.

HisMum4now Mon 29-Jul-13 18:55:05

He already has a TA, so resources are not the issue. The school tried to apply for oral modifier but couldn't get around the low comprehension threshold. Are you saying they are fobbing me off with this and they simply need to make it into a normal way of working to force the exam arrangement?

Part of the problem is that the teachers don't realize how much DS struggles. The school couldn't organize the teachers' training by DS's NHS Speech Therapist because of some limitation on teachers contract (!) They can't be made to learn about my DS SN apparently. So the teachers blame it on his attitude. One science teacher wrote in his end of year report that he "demonstrated the ability to answer exam questions to good standards, but is still unwilling to do this in class" #£$%^& ! Of course he can't do it live in class due to his language problems.

So I should ask the school to train the teachers and get them to modify the language in class as a normal way of working? Fantastic idea!
I was going to speak with the school anyway, but this is very specific.

Anthracite Mon 29-Jul-13 18:57:43

If the answers are in his head, and he can't get them out of his head and in to paper, then he should be entitled to appropriate access arrangements.

HisMum4now Mon 29-Jul-13 19:04:07

Exam technique is something that an AS DC can only learn with regular practice. It is an unnatural way of thinking, so needs to be rehearsed to death. The school doesn't do any exam technique, they believe it is beneath them. It also needs to be modified for AS DS.

So I should ask them to develop a personalized technique and get the teacher to practice in lessons. DS has a statement, it should be part of differentiation, right?

HisMum4now Mon 29-Jul-13 19:14:01

Does the oral language modifier asks followup questions? Do they take down oral answers?
I mean, if DS would be answering orally, would the modifier be able to ask a follow up question - for example the Why in the question about How the power stations are used?

Oral exams where the examiner can clarify and ask followup questions work very well for AS students. At least in woolly unstructured questions.

Anthracite Mon 29-Jul-13 19:36:27

An oral language modifier basically rephrases the questions. The student does the writing.

HisMum4now Mon 29-Jul-13 20:15:06

So the oral language modifier would be able to add "explain why" to the question how the power stations are used?
Would the TA acting as oral language modifier know how to rephrase the question?

Anthracite Tue 30-Jul-13 00:08:23

The oral language modifier would be his science teacher.

bruffin Tue 30-Jul-13 07:58:08
HisMum4now Tue 30-Jul-13 11:29:31

The comprehension threshold "measured by standard test" for OLM is too rigid and deliberately set unrealistically low though. It doesn't serve the brighter disabled pupils. In practice students with the comprehension that low wouldn't cope with the higher science papers anyway.The pragmatic problem would be muddled with the broader issue of ability. The test is not measuring the problem. DS understands the words "how" and "why", but doesn't understand that when asked "How the power stations are used", he should explain why.

There are no effective reasonable adjustment for high functioning AS pupils with specific language difficulties.

Anthracite Tue 30-Jul-13 13:37:12

There are other access arrangements. OLM was just an example of what is available.

The objective of the exam system is to enable students to achieve their very best, and not to let any disability get in their way. Access arrangements designed to compensate for or cancel out the effects of a disability.

You should definitely go over what is available with the exams officer and/or Senco.

A key principle of access arrangements is that they have to be a normal way of working, so they have to hit the ground running in September to collect sufficient evidence, and for him to get enough practice in this way of working.

There may be other, simpler, access arrangements such as reading aloud to himself that might be sufficient for him to get his ideas on paper.

Anthracite Tue 30-Jul-13 13:45:27

If your DS doesn't know the difference between how and why, then OLM should help him.

You've missed out the key word in your OP questions.

The question will not be "How do power stations....", but either "State how power stations..." Or "Explain how power stations". He may be given state answers rather than explain answers. When he has to explain something he needs to follow up the fact with a because. The marks for the question are a good guide - one mark for state, 2-3 marks for explain.

NT children fall short on this too. It is exam technique and attention to detail.

Copthallresident Tue 30-Jul-13 14:29:07

Anthracite. I think you have missed upthread that the exam boards have tightened up on access arrangements with the prevailing principle being that if a pupil has average or above scores in areas of weakness, even if they represent a significant disability because of the gap with their high ability, they will not get extra time etc. In the case of bright Dyslexics all the various charities and representatives of the Ed Psychs etc have met with Ofqual, and whilst they accepted it was an issue, they were not prepared to do anything about it because "many candidates who do not have dyslexia or a specific learning difficulty would like more time in which to complete their exams and might also gain higher marks if they had more time to complete and check their work"

I agree with OP that we should be doing something to put pressure on the D of E, Ofqual etc to stop this discrimination but I am not sure what given that they are not prepared to listen to the various professional; bodies and experts. I am starting by writing to my MP but would welcome other suggestions. It is so frustrating that after a lifetime of struggling with my own SpLDs but thinking that my own DDs would be able to achieve their potential it seems that for those that follow it will be back to ground zero. I don't think many parents or teachers have realised that yet.

RussiansOnTheSpree Tue 30-Jul-13 14:40:34

copthall Well, I would imagine that all the parents whose kids took public exams this year realise it. sad

I think it's possible that you don't quite realise how much more difficult it has been for some time in the state sector for the very high performing kids with SEN issues. We now have a formalised, stamped with the Govian imprimatur, discriminatory policy - but for some time it's been at best hit and miss for those in the state system. From what you have posted about the arrangements for your DDs at their private school they have had a lot better care than any of my kids ever have - however my LEA is spectacularly rubbish at dealing with some issues (although a leader in dealing with others - I guess it's a case of you can't have everything, maybe....) It makes me weep. In a way things are worse for my girls than they were for me, I think - because the less bright kids with their issues will get the help that all the kids with their issues deserve. And now they know that the government does completely know what dyspraxia is and it has decided that actually, it doesn't care.

Copthallresident Tue 30-Jul-13 15:25:15

russians I am perfectly aware of the very patchy nature of support in state schools and that, given the shortage of resources, it is even harder to get support for a bright child with SpLDs. Though better, frankly it is pretty patchy in private schools as well, there are private schools around here that will ask you to leave with a diagnosis and DDs prep school just denied she had a problem though she had an Ed Psych dx and came from her previous (International ) school with a clear account of the the intensive intervention there had been to get her reading and writing to average level, which as far as the prep was concerned meant she couldn't have a problem, after all they had Dyslexics who had worse spelling etc (because the school hadn't given them the benefit of that sort of tailored intervention). Our local borough send 20 boys to a specialist private school for Dyslexics because they don't have the provision in specialist units, but there is no equivalent for girls. There are some amazing examples of best practise in the private sector but more often the staff member responsible for supporting SpLDs did a course once and is more of an administrator of the processes needed to go through to get extra time with the help of motivated parents with the time and money to do the rest.

There is still a long way to go to make sure that the school system enables those with SpLDs to fulfill their potential. It's just I didn't expect it to go backwards and start discriminating against the brightest, and as you rightly say, since new hoops are being introduced, particularly against the brightest without the benefit of school and parents with the resources to support them.

HisMum4now Tue 30-Jul-13 19:02:27

For the moment the JCQ regulation and in the style of questions create a systemic discriminatory disadvantage for high achieving SEN DC. The regulation is inconsistent with the Equality act. The logic is so flawed and full of holes that it would only take a test case to blow it apart.

Parents have every right to demand equality. It is not a question of "we can't please everyone". The consistent legal argument needs to be put forward.

I can only speak about AS, but parents of DC with other disabilities would explain how it affects their DC.

The system argument is that discrimination is eliminated by exam concessions. However those concessions are made ineffective by the blanket JCQ regulation. The blanket arrangements do not address the individual impairment and therefore do not work as reasonable adjustment under the law. The argument that everybody would like more time is disingenuous. Current arrangements do give an advantage to the low comprehension group, i.e. those who meet the very low threshold of the regulation, but it is difficult to filter precisely the effect of disability from the underlying effect of low ability. This is inconsistent with the principle of reasonable adjustment. The adjustment is supposed to filter out, compensate the effect of the disability and it is only reasonable in so far as it doesn't compromise the ability to perform the skill, i.e. to apply science to a high standard. High ability group is equally entitled by law to a reasonable adjustment that is effective for them. The law provides that the precise test for the reasonable adjustment is on individual basis - case by case. The blanket arbitrarily low thresholds in the JCQ regulation are contrary to the Equality act.

RussiansOnTheSpree Tue 30-Jul-13 19:58:32

Hismum They know this. They don't care.

HisMum4now Tue 30-Jul-13 21:19:44

They never did. All the SEN provisions are fought by sword through tribunals.

If the dyslexic community managed to gather a deputation of specialists, maybe they could gather a few lawyers as well and chop up the arrogant "we can't please everyone".

This is a very serious attack on equality when spoken from the government agency. Equality is not a bone from the table.

Anthracite Tue 30-Jul-13 21:26:43

I think it would be very difficult to prove that your son's failure to address higher level learning skills is any worse than a typical child without LDD.

A typical Y10 student doing practice GCSE questions will often miss the extra marks for a question. By the time they get to the end of Y11, they are far more astute and will understand the command words and the need to make sure they make a new point for every mark available.

Access arrangements are there to make sure that your DS is not disadvantaged by his LDD. They are designed to get what is in his brain out onto paper.

A lot of your DS's shortcomings are down to the same struggles with exam technique that most students have. These will be ironed out with the natural maturity between Y10 and Y11.

I think you have to be very careful in judging that your DS's best is not good enough.

Is there a particular barrier due to your DS's AS that he does not appreciate that a question with 3 marks need 3 novel points?

RussiansOnTheSpree Tue 30-Jul-13 22:12:28

HisMum They want to reduce the number of people getting top grades. They don't think kids with SEN should be getting the top grades. They know well what they are doing. And they don't care.

Copthallresident Tue 30-Jul-13 22:53:36

russians I don't think that is the all of it. They also want to reduce the number of pupils getting extra time, in response to a belief amongst some that the increase in the numbers of pupils getting extra time is due to schools and Ed psychs corruptly diagnosing DCs in response to pressure to improve exam results, pushy parents or money, rather than the fact that schools are just getting better at spotting problems, and that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that plenty of Pupils with SpLDs are still going undiagnosed and unsupported. Quite why the way to tackle this is to leave the field wide open for all these corrupt educationalists, providing the pupils are not of high ability I don't know. However it is clear from those minutes that logic, evidence and expertise are not guiding these policies sad

hisMum I would imagine the Dyslexia /Dyspraxia charities are looking at this. It was clear from DDs Ed Psych that there is a lot of anger but at the end of the day they are charities and like the schools have limited resources and a lot of severely affected pupils to help.

HisMum4now Tue 30-Jul-13 23:03:25

I agree with Russians. There is an element of protecting "the natural order", keeping SEN children behind. Disability vigilantism.

I also find that most current policies seem to result in reduced competition for DC in public schools getting more university places.

HisMum4now Tue 30-Jul-13 23:26:55

Antracite, you need to analyse assumptions built into your reasoning.

What do you mean by novel points? Three discoveries worthy of Nobel prize? Invention of Windows? IVF? Twitter? That what novel means to me.

Do you mean novelty jumper with Rudolf on the front?

It sounds like education speaks a different language.

The question about power station asks how. In normal English the answer cannot be why, unless it is the exam speak for teachers. Why not who, when and how much?

The questions about vaccines is worth 1 mark, so the answer is one point - "pathogens". The explanation about specific antigens and antibodies goes into 3 points - this contradicts the logic of 1 mark - one point. Misleading, inconsistent. Flawed.

Here is the mark scheme answer that is firmly in charlatan territory. Would be curious to hear from moonbells. The question in AQA Physics paper. The student investigated refraction and made five measurements. He drawn a graph. "What two conclusions could be drawn from the graph?"
Mark scheme answer - angle of refraction is always smaller then the angle of incidence." shock For starters AQA textbook states on page 282 that the angle of refraction from glass into air is always grater then the angle of incidence. So the answer is plainly false without even going into complex concept of scientific method where a conclusion so far reaching as always can never be drawn from this one experiment alone, can only be demonstrated through theory and mathematical models. People who written the question and the answer don't understand a thing about the scientific method.

"Higher level learning skills" is a fantasy routed in teaching collective mythology. A group think, an accepted belief. A euphemism for transferring the burden of systemic incompetence onto the students.

They are higher then what?
Please, this is important, explain what higher learning means?

The exam papers and answers clearly are written in a particular subset of language where meaning is far distorted from normal English, from scientific terminology and from scientific method. DS cannot access this language due to impairment in pragmatics, theory of mind, etc.

The "exam technique", the "what examiner wants" and the "higher level learning skills" are not intrinsic to the thinking process neither in learning, nor in science, nor in exams. They go cross purpose actually.

There is no GCSE "Syllabus", GCSE "Exam technique", GCSE "Higher level what examiner wants skills". It is not timetabled in DS school week. The Exam technique and Higher level what examiner wants skills are not part of science syllabus either. There isn't any legitimacy in this expectation.

The very self evidence that DS should have those skills to succeed in science is discriminatory. It is as self evident as that women and black people do not have the skills to have the right to vote.

Anthracite Wed 31-Jul-13 05:23:44

How isn't a command word.

Command words are state, explain, suggest.

He needs to get to grips with these so that he can answer the question in order to access all the marks.

The question about refraction is asking what conclusions can you draw from the graph, not from your wider knowledge of the topic. It's a How Science Works assessment objective, not knowledge/understanding of the behaviour of waves.

As basic exam technique, this is all about reading the question, and answering the question that is asked. Writing wonderful statements about something that wasn't asked won't yield any marks.

When I said about novel points, I meant do not just keep listing the same type of point, eg making a list of factors. The novelty would be in offering an explanation. Because and therefore are very useful words.

gobbin Wed 31-Jul-13 12:35:22

I helped my son prepare for his exams this year by marking past papers for him in all his subjects from the official mark schemes.

It is quite clear that for GCSE level candidates are required to respond to questions in a variety of ways depending on the question, but that across nearly all subjects there is a common hierarchy of skills:

a) describing what you see/interpret directly (e.g. From graphs, charts, photos, maps etc) without particular reference to prior knowledge - this is the 'duh, but that's too obvious' bit that my son was previously omitting but is required for GCSE, as an exam that caters for all grades - it allows weaker pupils to respond and gain marks before moving on to questions that require more detail and background knowledge;
b) Command word 'describe' = What;
c) Command word 'explain' or 'why' or 'how' = Why or How (give further evidence or knowledge using subject-specific language);
d) Command word 'evaluate' = State first one, then the other side of an argument or point, include any effects these points may have on people, substances, places, policies, characters, populations etc. (depending on subject) THEN STATE YOUR OWN CONCLUSION/OPINION for the highest marks.

In conjunction wtih looking at how many marks a question was worth, I got my son into the habit of thinking 'What - How/Why - Effects - Conclusion' for all questions worth two or more marks ('What - How/Why' is usually enough for a 1 mark question).

In English they were taught PEE - Point, Evidence, Explain.
In Historty they were taught OSK - Origin, Source, Knowledge and COPR - Content, Origin, Purpose, Reliability.

All of the above is exam technique which all schools should be teaching (it was clear from doing past papers with son that some depts. were doing this but not consistently across subjects).

Even when taught, kids still don't always 'get' it - my boy is a decent grade A/B candidate but CONSTANTLY needed reminding when doing past papers to remember the command words and DEVELOP his answers i.e. points c) and d) in my list above (develop being a key word used on markschemes esp humanities).

I don't know how much more difficult it would be to try to get a pupil with Additional Needs to understand what is required when answering exam questions as that is outside of my personal experience, but there we have it - for good or evil, this is how pupils are required to respond at GCSE level. The exam technique needs to be taught, whether by school or home, in order to access papers as expected by exam boards. To be honest, there are many similarities with the old O Levels I took, it's just that there is more explanation and writing expected in Science exams these days.

Anthracite Wed 31-Jul-13 12:43:06

Good post, gobbin smile

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 13:02:02

I am grateful for the tips and the detailed explanation of the exam technique. I will certainly use that and am already doing most of this with DS.

The translation was particularly useful. This is akin the code of the Enigma machine.
How - read-^'explain' or 'why' or 'how' = Why or How (give further evidence or knowledge using subject-specific language)^

On practical level I will have to do this with DS and this is why it is discriminatory.

titchy Wed 31-Jul-13 13:12:57

I'm not sure it's really discriminatory - you have to do this exam technique stuff with ALL kids. They don't just magically know....

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 13:20:45

Antracite, every of your points makes it obvious how twisted and distorted the logic of the examiner is and how far it is removed from science and normal human higher order thinking process.

The question about refraction is asking what conclusions can you draw from the graph, not from your wider knowledge of the topic. It's a How Science Works assessment objective, not knowledge/understanding of the behaviour of waves.

This is obviously a statement from the examiner's world of collective mythology and beliefs confused for reality.

The question does not state to ignore wider knowledge.
DC cannot possibly separate the science exam from the wider knowledge of GCSE science. Are DC taught to not trust their teachers? They can't think that the question is not testing "understanding of the behaviour of waves". Why would they state something they know to be false, i.e, always?

The question asks how. There are no state, explain, suggest in the question.

Real people don't share the same set of flawed assumptions and accepted myths. The whole "exam technique" is about identifying the myth and assumptions of the examiner and prioritizing them over the higher order thinking skill of understanding how real science works. This is not a legitimate exam expectation.

Maybe 'normal' DC can learn this twisted thinking you call exam technique, but AS couldn't. It is impossible for AS DC to focus and follow through with this twisted pathway without running into paralysis. DS is just trying to think for himself and answer science questions. It puts disproportionate additional demands on him and the family which are not justified by the science.

There is a pragmatic distortion and bias in the questions and mark scheme which is not justified by the science and has discriminatory effect on AS DS. The exam system shouldn't put at a disadvantage a particular disability group.

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 13:24:12

There is no justification for the flawed arbitrary mark scheme.

Teaching the scientific inquiry, the method, is absolutely integral to learning science. Creating exam questions and answers that violate the scientific method can never be justified.

It is not possible to draw the conclusion always from the graph. It is only possible to conclude that in this experiment it is larger. I should add that the AQA textbook on page 282 does not state always. Science does not use this word.

The AQA IGCSE specification states on page 5:
"A scientifically literate person should be equipped to question … the evidence… The validity of evidence depends on … whether the research answers the question…
Evidence must be approached with a critical eye. It is necessary to look closely at how measurements have been made and what links have been established [or not]... These ideas pervade all of the scientific process."

If you go to the local pond and see five white swans, you cannot conclude that all swans are white. This experiment is only designed to answer the question "what swans can I see in this pond?" All you can say is 5 swans in this pond are white. The black swan can be hiding in the swan house. The experiment wasn't designed to check all swans. If you observed 1000 white swans in Essex, you still can't conclude that all swans are white. It only shows you haven't seen your first black swan because your sample is not representative.

So this IGCSE "scientific process" objective basically means to teach DC not to conclude always from a limited experiment design. The GCSE exam only grants marks for the conclusion always. How is this possible? This is unethical.

Anthracite Wed 31-Jul-13 13:44:10

It asks what you can tell from the graph. Nothing ambiguous, nothing warped.

Being able to read graphs is an important skill.

The question just asked about what those five data points indicated. It did not ask the candidate to evaluate the method or suggest improvements, or suggest activities for further enquiry. It could have, had it been a 6 mark question, but it wasn't.

Unfortunately, students (or their parents) don't have the luxury of dictating which questions are asked.

Knowing factoids is considered less important, in these days of instant access to information.

Making sense of information, processing it, and evaluating it are all higher order skills.

For a top grade, it is important to know (state/describe) the material, but also connect the facts, and explain/evaluate/suggest. If a student cannot do these higher order skills, then they should not get a top grade, even if they do have encyclopaedic knowledge.

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 14:14:26

You can't tell the always from the graph. You can only tell that in this experiment (light type, plastic material) it is larger. The graph starts to curve at the edges, so it shows that the relationship changes. Even the graph is evidence that always in not correct. Always is plane wrong.

The fact you you insist on it only shows that the distorted assumptions and mythology is so deeply embedded in your thinking, that you cannot separate fact from assumption. It should not be my DS 's problem.

The explanation that follows in your post is a pile up of flawed patronising assumptions leading to a flawed conclusion that my DS doesn't know science. He does, the examiner is the one who does not understand a thing but has the power..

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 31-Jul-13 14:20:56

hismum I think you are over thinking this.

Anthracite Wed 31-Jul-13 14:42:15

You are wrong, hismum.

Refraction is always either larger or smaller until the critical angle is reached (at and beyond the critical angle you no longer have refraction). It can't sometimes be larger and sometimes be smaller. It doesn't matter that the relationship is not linear.

There is nothing wrong with the mark scheme in that example.

Knowing lots of facts and no means to process them is a C-grade performance.

Can't you let your DS's best be good enough?

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 14:46:31

How can you conclude that DS knows a lot of facts but can't process them? How do you know?

This is just speculation and mythology.

You go on to suggest DS is not good enough. This is just discriminatory smear. It is not evidence based.

HisMum4now Wed 31-Jul-13 14:48:58

The mark scheme is arbitrary. The word always doesn't belong there and AS DS is at a disadvantage for no good reason. The system should not be discriminatory.

Anthracite Wed 31-Jul-13 15:01:31

You don't seem to want to help your DS, but rather whine about the system and have no respect for the professionals who are passionate about what they do.

Bye bye and good luck to your DS.

Copthallresident Wed 31-Jul-13 15:04:08

hismum I totally share your frustration with the exam system and would like things to change but sadly it is what we are landed with and as I said before though DDis capable of misreading a How as a Why, and moreover does not have a scientific brain, her strengths are on the EQ side, she did get an A in Double Science, actually only a couple of marks off A*. I am sure your DS will do well, or as well as the latest meddling with the mark scheme allows.

We have to support our DCs to do their best with their strengths and to find ways to cope with their weaknesses. I am not sure that this level of over thinking is helpful. I think that even if anthracite and others don't necessarily understand the challenges our DCs face there are some useful hints here, some of which I know helped my Dd to get the marks to compensate for where she will undoubtedly have lost them due to her SpLDs.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Agree. Phone. Sorry.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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?

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 17:31:06

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 17:35:08

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

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.

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.....

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

This is very helpful indeed. Thank you Uninformed.

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.

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