British universities will have an unprecedented voice in designing the next generation of A-level exams, writes Graeme Paton in the Daily Telegraph. The people responsible for writing the new examination standards will be required to consult with representatives from at least 20 institutions of higher learning to make sure that graduates are adequately evaluated on their university preparedness upon leaving school. The universities will yield their discretion in the form of veto power, and will be allowed to weigh in on the exam quality before the tests are administered to British sixth-formers.
The universities are particularly eager to for a voice in this matter because they hope that new rigorous standards will reduce the need for them to offer remedial classes to new students in order to get them up to speed for college-level work. A recent study of those leaving school showed that that British students are chronically underskilled in such areas as essay writing, spelling, and English grammar.
The body in charge of the new A-levels is also looking at number of additional changes to the testing regime:
— Raise the possibility of axing AS-levels taken in the first year of the sixth-form or turn them into "standalone" qualifications in which results have no bearing on final A-level scores;
— Scrap bite-sized A-level modules – and tests sat in the January of each year – in favour of more traditional end-of-year exams;
— Limit the number of times each student can re-sit exams.
The changes, which are expected to be introduced by 2014, were welcome by university officials. Wendy Piatt, the director general of the 20 top research universities making up the Russell Group, says that a more comprehensive testing regime would allow students to absorb subjects more fully and prepare them better to build upon their knowledge during their continuing academic career. The limit on the number of times kids are allowed to retake failed exams was also a step in the right direction, making sure that only those with true proficiency in the subject area being tested will move on from high school to university education.
She added: "Students have been allowed to do re-sits too frequently. Our universities are concerned that many of the students who don't get the grades first or second time around don't go on to do as well in their chosen degree course."
Ofqual will publish a consultation document on Tuesday into plans to dramatically overhaul A-levels, which are sat by around 300,000 teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland each year.
Currently, independent examination boards write A-level subject exams following curriculum guidelines set by the British government. In the future, British universities — especially those with recognized expertise in the subject area — will take the lead in exam design, so that, in the words of British education secretary Michael Gove, the A-level qualification confidently communicates a minimum level of student expertise.