Wednesday, May 18

The howling choir must not be allowed to cancel the exam!

  • Karoline Torkildsen

    Associate professor and central board member of the Norwegian Associate Professor Association

Karoline Torkildsen (pictured) works as an associate professor at Ullern upper secondary school. It is a big mistake to cancel all exams with a stroke of a pen in February, she believes.

The pandemic has lasted for almost two years. It is not the same as two years of schooling being completely ruined.

This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are at the writer’s expense.

The exam debate in Norwegian schools is underway again. On 31 January, the Directorate of Education recommends that exams be canceled once again as a result of the corona pandemic, as in 2020 and 2021.

The student organization (EO) is always opposed to exams. They claim that conducting a normal exam in the spring of 2022 is almost considered an abuse of Norwegian students, while teachers’ organizations do not agree among themselves or internally.

If the exam is canceled, the time must be used to “close academic gaps”. But if this is a big problem in many subjects, there is little that can be saved within two weeks after 17 May. What is it about exams that creates such different perceptions, high temperatures and steep attitudes?

Different situations

In the spring of 2020, exams in both primary and secondary school were canceled due to the corona pandemic. That time, perhaps mostly because the pandemic was so shockingly new, we knew little about what the time towards summer would be like, and the fear in general was great?

I have been an associate professor in upper secondary school for almost ten years, and I can tell you that there is not much that is missing in the third grade education after March 12 every year. Then the students have gone through almost everything they need to during 13 years of schooling. After Easter, rehearsal and rest time await before the exam.

In the spring of 2021, the situation was different. Many had had long weeks, and in some places months, with changing traffic lights.

Some students experienced the teaching as deficient when it was digital. Others felt that there was a lot about digital teaching that motivated more than the one in the classroom.

The result was the same anyway: On the grounds that the students knew less than before, and because the exam is so demanding, this was also canceled in 2021.

For another year, Norwegian graduating students received record high grade marks. Isn’t it a little strange when everything was so unsuccessful in Norwegian school?

The logic of the student organization

We are now counting February, and thus the pandemic has lasted for almost two years. It is not the same as two years of schooling being completely ruined. Nor that Norwegian students have large academic gaps.

The school year we are in has largely been almost normal, even with challenges related to quarantine and isolation. My students, and I as their teacher, have experienced both.

The school year we are in has largely been almost normal, even with challenges related to quarantine and isolation.

Do I mean then that after almost 13 years of schooling, in a country that to a very high degree has done very well in the pandemic, they are not able to graduate from high school and can start higher education?

If we are to follow the logic of EO and some other voices in the ongoing debate, Norwegian graduating students will not be able to complete the exam because they have not reviewed or understood large parts of the curriculum’s competence goals. Can they then get a diploma?

Shows the same

Subject teachers cannot give a student who does not participate in the teaching any assessment. Nor can we give a “kinder” assessment if the student shows a lack of or completely absent competence in a subject. Will not an exam then show exactly the same thing – a lack of competence level in a subject?

EO’s concern should be whether Norwegian students are less prepared for studies after the pandemic, and that they will thus struggle more in higher education, as Kristin Vinje, director of the National Agency for Quality in Education, writes in Aftenposten on 31 January. How will a canceled exam help with this problem?

Norwegian students have been taught in a number of different ways through the pandemic. Sometimes this has meant that they themselves have to actively seek out the teaching digitally.

The doorstep mile can probably be very heavy for already unmotivated young people, but it is also for all those who sit in the home office. This does not mean that the teaching has been absent, it does not mean that it has been bad, and it does not mean that Norwegian students have large academic gaps.

Last chance for many

The exam in upper secondary school is a tool for measuring competence in the curriculum, and it is a last chance for all students who are at risk of failing. An exam must measure what society has decided should be competence in each subject, as a position assessment will.

In other words: If you are so inadequately prepared for the exam that it cannot be completed, you will also not be able to get a position assessment.

Like last year’s exam debate, a number of concepts are discussed that many may be unsure of. Central exams have assignments that are created by the Directorate of Education and sent out to each school. This is how the students in some subjects are tested exactly the same no matter where in the country they live.

This is done so that the teaching will give the students the same competence when they go to public school, whether they are in Oslo, in Kirkenes or in Dovre. Nevertheless, such an examination in some subjects may be perceived as more “unfair”, since the infection situation has been somewhat different around.

A big mistake

Oral exam is an exam made by the individual subject teacher, so that the students are tested on competence that the class has worked particularly hard on. Therefore, this is often a good experience of mastery for students. Together with a subject teacher they know well, they are shown what they can, to an external examiner.

To cancel both of these with a stroke of a pen in February is a big mistake. I hope that Minister of Education Tonje Brenna (Labor Party) looks away from the howling chorus that demands that the exam be canceled, and that she rather gives the students the opportunity for the exam to show competence.

This is also the last chance for those with the lowest level of competence to get a standing grade.

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