Friday, May 2, 2014


Amendment Note: This paper’s scheme and ideas were approved by Karen Sinclair, in email correspondences and a Skype conversation.  She approved that I could do an analysis of a piece of work created by the University of Cambridge International School Examinations (CIE), using the CIE philosophy and curriculum/curricula.  Moreover, an extension was granted until May 30th, 2014.

Why choose a reading and writing exam as a piece of student work?  In Asia, students are taught, educated and also come to expect to take pass exams (Asia for Educators, 2007).  It is a very traditional Confucius mindset that has led us to this.  At Orchlon International School, uses the Cambridge University International Examinations (CIE), based on the UK National Curriculum, as well the Mongolian National Curriculum, and unfortunately focuses on teaching to the test, at least amongst certain teachers.  For various reasons, such as salary deductions for low test scores, or having children who attend the school tuition free, certain teachers have fiscal reasons to encourage the students to pass these external exams.   a school trying to be international, while also trying to placate traditional parents and administrators.  Not all teachers teach to the test at Orchlon.  As educators, we have a duty to help students learn lifelong values, and through this, we can also assist them to pass exams.

The piece of work chosen is the Complete (PET) Preliminary English Test for Schools, Paper 1 Reading and Writing.  The third written section was omitted for time constraints.  It is a free practice test, available online for downloading and photocopying. The piece of work chosen was written by Itgel, who is amongst the top tier in her class.  Throughout the year, the students learn about various topics, such as descriptive writing, settings, atmosphere, diaries, journals, myths, legends, leaflets, reports, reading newspapers, writing summaries, and the history of English (Reynolds, 2011).  These subjects are assisted by the Cambridge Checkpoint 2 textbook.  There is room for more, as, for example, Mongolians compare Hitler to Genghis Khaan and sometimes revere him as a good man, so the students had a two week lesson about Nazis, World War II and Judaism.  The students’ course work includes writing newspaper articles, performing theatrical skits, writing diaries, listening to and singing music, writing critical reviews, analysing and writing their own political cartoons, doing gallery walks, learning about Jamaica, and creating their own myths/legends.  It is not all about cramming, rote learning and after school drilling in their English class, as it is in their maths class or in other classes.  Itgel’s class has the highest test scores in the grade seven stream, which includes six different cohorts.  However, in the end, the stakeholders need results, so the PET was chosen as the student work for this paper.

“The expertise of our research staff, combined with our rigorous validation and quality systems enables Cambridge English Language Assessment to offer assessment services that are fit for purpose, have proven validity and reliability, and are aligned with international standards”  (Dr Nick Saville, Director, Research and Validation, Cambridge University, 2014).  As Brady and Kennedy in 2012 stated, validity and reliability are key aspects that can determine test results for students.  According to Saville, the exams they create are valid and reliable.  However, according to Hove (Hove, July 2012); there are many parts of the test where the validity is questioned.  True-false questions do not challenge the candidate’s cognitive ability, and there is a fifty percent chance of getting the answer correct, as there is also a high chance of getting a multiple choice question correct just by guessing.  However, Itgel and her educators are not provided with a choice. They study with CIE.

The school and Cambridge provided a spreadsheet called the SBA analysis spreadsheet.  In this spreadsheet, teachers enter all the assessment categories, with student grades, and a report on the assessment is then generated, strand statistics, along with a summary of learners’ results, and data.  From these three pieces of information, educators can determine the classes’ areas of strength and weaknesses.  With this statistical information, teachers can augment their lessons and provide administrators with information for parents and government officials (stakeholders).

In part one of the reading section of this paper (please see the screenshot of the Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper), students are provided with short readings, for example, on sign boards, notes, postcards, and are given three answers to choose from (multiple choice) in order to define the message. The student who wrote the exam did quite fine (5/5), as did her classmates, except for one child, who received a 2/5.  In part two, the student who wrote the exam analysed and had to comprehend statements and then search for information.  This was also done to perfection, with a score of 5/5.  According to the SBA spreadsheet generator, Itgel and her classmates are strongest in this area, thus, finding part two of reading, the easiest part of the test.  In part three, The student who wrote the exam had to search for information, which is an authentic exercise, one in which people engage in daily in real-life, but asking true false questions on this exam questions the validity of the results.  All the same, the candidate, again, did quite well, receiving an 8/10 for this section, while her classmates, for the most part, had more difficulty with this part.  Therefore, Itgel’s educators may need to focus more on this kind of work in class.  In the reading section, part four, which was a multiple choice reading comprehension exercise, the student who wrote the exam did not fair too well, receiving a 2/5.  Notwithstanding, her classmates also did not fair very well in this section, so more revision may be needed in class.  In section five, a gap fill about sharks, the student in question earned a 10/10, and this was her classes’ second strongest area.  In the next section, writing, there were two required parts.  The first part was a sentence transformation, in which they were required to write a new sentence, based on one provided, by filling in the missing word or words.  The student who wrote the exam received a 4/5 in this part, while her classmates also did quite well, with the exception of one, who received 3/5, which was still a good score.  In part two, the students had to write an email describing a book, explaining why they chose this book and suggesting why their friend should buy the book.  Minor grammatical errors were not considered in this exercise.

Some of the answer key was unclear and the wording was disorganised, which may have allowed students to lower their grade.  As a result, they were permitted to ask the invigilators questions about the answer key during the examination.

The PET exam also has the options for listening, speaking and a part three in the written section.  As they only study English for two hours a week with their native English teacher, it was deemed that there was not sufficient time to administer the exam in its entirety.  In grade eight, the students will also engage in a very important summative exam, which focuses on reading and writing, so this is another consideration as to why reading and writing was chosen over listening and speaking in the PET test.

It is the administrations current belief that English speaking teachers, from Mongolia and abroad, need not only to be fluent in English, but bring with them international mindedness.  The current foreign staff at Orchlon has regularly criticised the school’s focus on exams, quizzes and tests, and questioned why the school does not administer holistic assessments. The school is trying, but moving from a traditional Asian mindset will take time.   Portfolios, exhibitions, online learning, speeches, debates, Model UN, skits, and field trip surveys will eventually replace Itgel’s pencil and paper tests, and when it does happen, the values she will learn will assist her to become a well rounded person as an adult, as opposed to someone who is good at rote memorisation.  It is a very interesting time to be at Orchlon and in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  Luckily for this writer, he will witness many changes in society and in educational assessment.
The first part of this reflection, which is to reflect on my own learning journey through this course, will be intrinsically tied to the second part, which is to pose some questions related to my pending practicum for ETP425.  This reflection will weigh and compare traditional formative /summative, terminal assessments versus modern and up to date informal assessments.  The third part will compare and contrast the CIE Curriculum to that of the Australian National Curriculum.

Thus far, through this course, Brady & Kennedy (Brady and Kennedy, 2012), in addition to supplemental online and PDF readings, have informed me about summative/formative and project, performance and a multitude of non-traditional assessments.  The knowledge provided from these sources has assisted me to augment my already seventeen years of international educational experience.  In Korea, Taiwan and Mongolia, I experienced and witnessed many traditional assessments, but they lacked authenticity (Brady and Kennedy, p. 44), as the assessments lacked ambiguous tasks and essay based questions.   Moreover, students rarely, if ever, wrote short stories, biographies, autobiographies, debated, gave speeches, submitted portfolios or did exhibitions, because under confident teachers and a lack of training prevented them from doing so (Lesser, 2014).  Moreover, this traditional philosophy towards assessment is related to East Asia’s belief in Confucianism.  Confucius stated that a career needed to be determined by an exam, so the Asian mentality in education has remained relatively unchanged every since.

When I made the shift to international schools, in Indonesia, where I worked at their Australian International School, which used the BSSS and VELS curricula, in Singapore, which used the International baccalaureate, and currently in Mongolia, which uses a national curriculum, alongside the Cambridge University International School Examinations, I began to learn much more about coursework assessment, much of which was informal, as well as product orientated.  According to Brady and Kennedy (2012), informal assessments include self assessment from both educators and students, as well as peer editing.  This would not be plausible at a domestic Asian school, but works well in Western and international educational environments.  Some strategies suggested by  Brady and Kennedy (2012) that I witnessed in international schools were outcomes in poetry recitals, debates, songs, and speeches; processes, such as interviews and theatrical performances involving both students and educations; personal attributes, such as risk taking when a young year seven student needed to approach a year twelve student for information related to a task; and records, such as the usage of portfolios, as well as a mark book that considered homework, behaviour, attendance and class work.

In my current place of employment, Orchlon International School in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, a private K-12 school, is where I will also engage in the practicum component of this course, I will observe and participate in geography, English, and History classes, taught by Mongolians and an Indian. The school itself, an international bilingual school using two curricula, to cater to both locally minded parents and internationally minded Mongolian students, is in a state of flux, moving from a traditional mindset to one of the international community.  I am here at a very interesting time, and I will be able to witness many changes.  My mentor teachers themselves were all educated in traditional settings in their youth, but in teachers’ college, studied the theories of modern day education, with collaborative learning, student centred classrooms and the various learning styles.

Thus far, I am aware that some of them still use teacher centred classes, a mix of both, or are starting to lean towards student centred learning.  How will they react when I do not wholly engage the student with a 40 or 80 minute lecture?  What will they say when I allow the students to not only be very talkative, but to also allow them to openly challenge me in the classroom in front of their peers?  I may provide them with weekly assessment tasks, to be completed over the weekend and submitted on Monday, or groups could be Power Point Presentations in which their classmates do the assessing, or I could assess their coursework group work collaborating skills.  These are quite different, if not radical, compared to what the students are used to; monthly formal traditional pencil and paper tests. Performance assessments (Brady & Kennedy [Forster & Masters, 1996, p. 1]), such as acting out a scene from the royal court of England in the 14th century, which I learnt about while in teachers’ college in Singapore, would be something to consider as well, which would engage the students in real learning opportunities.  How will stakeholders, such as administrators and parents react, when they find out that the children are being assessed while acting?  Experience has taught me that when students are happy, parents are happy and parents tell administrators they are happy, and then administrators are happy with the teachers.  What child would not like to act out, as opposed to reading 500 pages of a thick historical text, or go to Northern Mongolia for a week long survey on rocks, bones and live with a nomadic family in a yurt (ger) for their geography assessment, instead of sitting a two hour test?

This third section of the reflection is meant to compare, contrast and criticise the UK National Curriculum (also known as CIE), and the Australian National Curriculum (ANC).  A few key principal aims and purposes of the CIE is that the curriculum is meant to build and develop a student’s sense of knowledge, as well as understanding of English, European and global viewpoints of religious, ethical, community, and cultural heritages (National Curriculum (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)).  While, according to the documentation on the ANC website (), Australian Literature at the year 8 level will tie Australian curriculum to that of Asia.  The two are similar, with regards to global viewpoints.  However, the CIE focus is on the UK and Europe, with a broad global perspective tied in.  There has been criticism of both curriculums.  The CIE does not always require firm hold in a particular school.  Some schools, as a result, also use their own curriculum, which creates a two tiered system (National Curriculum (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)), much like the one at Orchlon International School.  Moreover, some of the assessment examinations are not tied to the national curriculum, so there is a dumbing down of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (National Curriculum (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)).  Moreover, students are pressured by stakeholders to get higher grades, so they can see their grades on a league table (National Curriculum (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)).  Therefore, they take easier courses, such as drama, art and history and drop more difficult courses, such as mathematics, chemistry and physics (National Curriculum (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)).  On the other hand, the ANC has also had its critics, because the subjects are watered down, so that the graduating class’s certificate will not be viewed as competent as a New South Wales Higher School Certificate (and the subsequent curriculum) (Australian Curriculum).  Literacy and Literature is now being shifted towards language, while the history curriculum is too ambitious and sciences does not focus on scientific concepts and skills, and instead focuses on the history of science (Australian Curriculum).  In essence, there is no such thing as perfect curriculum.  Both the CIE and the ANC have their merits and downfalls, and it seems as though each compare very similarly to their viewpoints and where they want their students to end up; being well rounded, caring, educated global thinkers.

The interactions and conversations I am bound to have over the next few weeks, months and even years, are definitely going to interesting ones, visa-vie summative/formal versus informal performance and project based assessments here at Orchlon in Mongolia.  It is my hope that this course, online discussions with classmates and reading will also assist me in my justifications. 

Photo of Student’s Work Page One

Photo of Student’s Work page two

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.
Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.
Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.
Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper.

Complete PET Test Answers (Screenshot of Reading and Writing Answers)., taken 30 April, 2014. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Complete PET TEST Candidate Answer Sheets., retrieved April 30th, 2014.  Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Complete PET TEST Candidate Answer Sheets.
Complete PET TEST Candidate Answer Sheets.


Australian Curriculum Framework: English (2009).  Education Services Australia.

Australian Curriculum (22 February, 2014).

Brady, L. & Kennedy, K. (2012).  Assessment and Reporting; Celebrating Student Achievement, 4th Edition.  Pearson Australia, NSW. 1-155.

Cambridge International Examinations (2014).

Cambridge International Examinations (8 May 2014).

Complete PET Test Answers (Screenshot of Reading and Writing Answers)., retrieved 30 April, 2014. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Complete PET Test Reading Writing Paper. (2010)

Complete PET TEST Candidate Answer Sheets.  (2010), retrieved April 30th, 2014.  Cambridge University Press.

Hove, M. L. (July 2012).  Hyphenated validity: Comparability of assessment protocols in English language between two examination boards.  SA-eDUC JOURNAL Volume 9, Number 1.

Lesser, Michael (2014).  Professional Experiences in the Educational Field since 1997.

National Curriculum Assessment (26 April, 2014).

National Curriculum (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (7 May 2014).,_Wales_and_Northern_Ireland)

PET (Preliminary English Test) for Schools Practice test.   (2010)

Research and Validation (2014).  UCLES.

Reynolds, J.  (2011). Cambridge Checkpoint English 2, New Edition.  Hodder Education, London, 1-125.

Saville, N. (February, 2014), Cambridge University.

The Confucian Classics and the Civil Service Examinations.   (2007) Asian for Educators, Columbia University. 

University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (27 February, 2014).

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