Test results – do they matter?
All through my ceramics diploma course I have been telling myself that it was the course, not the results which were important and I still hold to that very strongly. On the other hand when a dull, buff coloured envelope (which might have been from the Inland Revenue except that I don’t think they write addresses by hand) arrived this week I was curious. These days letters are a rarity and those addressed by hand smell of intrigue. I ripped it open and instantly recognised the format of the paper work inside. Before I could read any of the results I stopped – I wanted to remind myself of my claim. Results don’t matter. The comments on these flimsy sheets would mean much more than any percentage figures, wouldn’t they? Apparently not! Thanks to the perverse workings of my brain I could, if I wished to, tell you all of the percentages on those sheets right now. I shan’t! But I cannot tell you a single comment without reading them again.
I have bust several guts in the process of getting from one end of the course to the other. My husband has had to take over all the cooking in order not to starve . There have been weeks of sleepless nights. I have tossed and turned or, worse, got up and paced the house, because I could not resolve some problem. We in the know called it ‘Pot Anxiety’ and all of us suffered from it at one time or another. The diploma has entered not only the pores of my skin and the underneath of my finger nails but also the very fabric of my dreams. For what? To excel. To do my very best. To understand as much as I possibly could before time was ‘up’ and I had to go it alone. It really wasn’t so that I could reach for my calculator and confirm what I already knew. I would frankly have been ashamed if I had been awarded better marks – I was less pleased with my final exhibition that anyone else could have been. I knew that my ideas were only partially resolved so it should be absolutely no surprise.
As a professional teacher I have always worked to a very strict mark scheme. For a time I was a Moderator for one of the public examination boards at GCSE level and the Internal Verifier for a set of school BTEC courses. I learned, through a process of rigorous training, how to allocate marks and how certain criteria represented a particular grade. On the other hand, I have now had the luck/privilege to undertake 5 courses in Higher Education institutions and I cannot resist making a bit of a comparison.
My experience of tertiary education has been truly amazing. In addition I have long maintained that, as a teacher, it is important for me to sit on both sides of the desk and to understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of things for a while. I shall value the knowledge, understanding and personal development which I have gained from a long series of excellent tutors, whose wisdom and comments I have truly enjoyed, for ever. But I do think there is a bit of a hole in the world of Higher Education which could do with some filling. In my view, English schools are streets ahead on the topic of marking. Their schemes are scrutinised to the ‘nth’ degree. Marking is checked, peer reviewed, externally moderated and sometimes reviewed again. Those young people who are lucky enough to be awarded a particular grade in this summer’s public exams can be confident that their marks mean something very clear and they can be extremely proud of their achievements. I wish I could say the same of some of the tertiary marks which I have had the luck to obtain. I would love to see a much clearer correspondence between mark-scheme criteria achieved, comments and actual marks. Perhaps it is appropriate that those people who are gaining ‘school stage education’, and for whom a particular range of results can be life changing, it is the marking which must be particularly rigorous. Whilst, once one reaches the Higher Education level, it is the quality of the learning and the skills gained which mean so much more. Yet I wonder whether, if the two levels of institution got together, the one might learn off the other to the benefit of all.
One thing, though. I have expended so much effort on being adventurous and experimental on this course that I can see now that I lost sight of the value of the balanced proportions and clear aesthetics in a top quality piece. I rather wish that one of my tutors had pointed that out to me instead of it dawning on me once the dust had settled and I had tucked myself up in my own little studio to make under no pressure and, thanks to the knowledge gained on the course, with much more pleasing results.