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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?

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.

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