The consensus is that a rich blend of variables influence exam results – teaching quality, socio-economic factors, parental involvement, study strategies, teaching methods and even student genes.
But, amongst these, just how much do teaching methods impact exam results? In order to come to any semblance of an answer, first we must look at the link between exam results and teacher performance.
Effective evaluation is good for pupils and good for teachers. It can improve the quality of teaching, provided it is accompanied by good feedback, and it can lead to better results for pupils and improved learning
Exam results and teacher performance
In 2013, research suggested that test scores were the most effective way of judging staff performance – over and above student surveys and classroom observation. Yet it also stressed that gaining a full understanding of teacher quality is at its clearest when these methods were combined together.
The evidence suggests that schools should rely on a combination of approaches to gain a fuller picture of teacher effectiveness, and that teachers should be assessed on their cumulative performance over several years rather than on the data from a single year
Yet questions are frequently raised as to whether the continual focus on exam results alone truly benefits students.
In which case, the question as to the link between teaching methods and results becomes ever more important – could it be that a less effective teacher with the right teaching method delivers better results, that highly effective teachers with the wrong method?
It started to feel like I was working in a results factory, a production line churning out the highest grades in the hope of retaining its outstanding status. Expectations were so far removed from the reality of what staff and students could really achieve with the time they had. I watched students crumble under the pressure of missing target grades, put into compulsory intervention groups for getting an A instead of an A*, and teachers become so demotivated that they left.
Hereditary and environmental factors
Research undertaken by the American Statistical Association (2014) found that just 1 – 14% of education outcomes are directly attributable to the so-called “teacher factor”.
These lowly figures compare to a UK national study which compared twin samples of 11,117 16-year-olds. This Kings College study discovered that it was hereditary and environmental factors that had the largest impact on overall GCSE performance:
So the question as to whether exam grades are an assessment of teaching methods should always be asked with consideration to the wider factors that affect each and every individual in the class.
It’s obvious that teachers can have a significant impact on an individual’s performance in exams but they are not the only influence on grades – good or bad.