Photo: Akhilesh Sharma/Unsplash

What is the issue with resits?

In the last November GCSE resits, just under 61,000 students sat maths after previously falling short of a good pass (Grade 4). Of those, about 14,000 (less than a quarter) reached that mark second time around.

That leaves a very significant number still without a ‘good pass’ in GCSE maths.

This does not mean that they are unable to get a Grade 4 or that their teachers have failed them.

But it does show that the resit system could be substantially improved.

One way in which that could be done is by using Artificial Intelligence for formative assessment from the outset of any resit course.

Source: JCQ

What added difficulties do resit students and their teachers face?

While I was with the Centre for Education & Youth, we and Warwick University looked at the post-16 cohort involved in resitting GCSE maths in Further Education, and found that the deck is stacked against learners doing resits.

There are two particularly important factors at play here.

The impact of learning environment and motivation on resits

Firstly, these students, who frequently need additional support (many are eligible for Free School Meals, face language barriers, or have SEND), are further hindered by the disruption of moving to a new learning environment.

Secondly, they may lack the motivation to continue with a subject where they have already been deemed “failures”.

Both these factors become heightened if a student, who may only need help in one or two specific areas, has to revisit topics they already understand instead of those they really need to focus on.

Can not knowing students' strengths and weaknesses hamper teachers?

For teachers tasked with helping these students get the right grade, the situation is similarly constrained.

A study showed that the FE sector is struggling to recruit and retain appropriately qualified staff.

When FE maths teachers enter the classroom at the beginning of the new academic year, they will be greeted by maybe 30 new faces, each with their own preferences, knowledge gaps and motivations.

Given that disadvantaged and students with SEND make up a disproportionately high number of resit entries – 39% of this group as opposed to representing 26% of total students – and that those with SEND are around 40% less likely to get a ‘good pass’ in maths, teachers will also have to adapt their teaching to meet the needs of these students.

This is more difficult for the less experienced.  

The prospects for greater funding to improve this situation anytime soon appear slim.

Can Adaptive Assessment aid students and teachers involved in resits?

However, there is hope that new technology, in particular Artificial Intelligence, will give educators more “bang for their buck” in terms of impact.

The CfEY’s research found that teachers believe technology could be a key aid for understanding their students’ needs and therefore improve learning outcomes.

In the last year there has been a massive shift in the accessibility and use of tools which can process information with minimal direction, including establishing the baseline of where students are at.

Adaptive assessment could be used to overcome the “resit” issue and be a huge boon to busy educators.

How does Adaptive Assessment work?

The way this works is that students sit a digital assessment which begins with a random selection of mid-difficulty questions across the range of topics within a given subject.

The student’s responses allow the AI to make an initial assessment of their proficiency.

From there the difficulty of the questions are set in relation to that estimate so that they are challenging but not too difficult.

That challenge level is constantly being reassessed based on the student's responses to previous questions.

At the end of the assessment, the teacher will have a solid idea of the student’s ability level, and their knowledge gaps clearly identified.

How do teachers use Adaptive Assessment results?

The teacher can then set about devising a learning plan that clearly focuses on the areas where the student needs it, rather than a scatter gun approach.

However, it is important to note that while technology can support good teaching, it cannot replace it.

We must never forget that teachers are the ones who implement educational strategies and interventions.

For this to be done effectively, there needs to be consistent Continuing Professional Development support, including for assessment for learning.

This was something the FE teachers we spoke to said  they struggled to access.

Teachers need support to get the best out of Adaptive Assessment

AI can help them, as long as they are given good support through CPD to understand how to use a strategy or intervention effectively.

Most importantly, AI must be shown to be a tool to support, not replace them.

Bart Crisp is an expert in teacher professional development, school development and literacy.

As part of AQi’s work, we are inviting people from a wide range of viewpoints to engage with us on a wide range of topics. We welcome alternative views to help stimulate discussion and ideas. The views of external contributors do not necessarily represent the views of AQi or AQA.

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