Dubai: UAE schools are taking varied approaches towards end-of-term exams, to be held online for the first time to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Some schools are instead holding smaller tests intermittently and doing away with a specific exam period this term.

Also, most school-leaving external exams such as IB, IGCSE and A-Levels have been cancelled because of the pandemic.

Dean Pyrah

Dean Pyrah, Principal/CEO at Victoria International School Sharjah (VISS) and Head of the IB Association of Schools in the UAE, said the school will not have a formal exam period this year during the COVID-19 lockdown and distance learning period.

Instead, the school has organised a schedule of ongoing tasks and assessments “that directly address the curriculum outcomes to be done in [online] class over the course of the term.”

‘Accurate reflection’

VISS, an Australian curriculum and IB World School, has already done many of these assessments and these will be “fairly weighted to come up with an accurate reflection of the child’s achievement against the standards”.

American School Dubai, a two-semester school, said in the high school section, the AP Exams will take place online from May 11 to 22. Holding exams online brings its own opportunities and challenges, the school added.

Pros and cons

“From a student perspective, pros are that they can take exams at their own pace and are able to eat, drink, or use the restroom as necessary. Cons would be that the testing environment is subject to individual family situations and others working from home. Also, the student does not have the teacher as a live proctor to ask any clarifying questions,” it said.

Shorter tests

Deepika Thapar Singh

Deepika Thapar Singh, CEO-Principal at Credence High School in Al Khail, Dubai, said the Indian-curriculum school (which is in Term 1) is opting out of lengthy “high-stake exams” in favour of shorter tests.

She added that sitting online tests from home takes out the “added stress of exam halls” and travelling to the school has its own risks. “Technology is not always reliable, there might be connection or internet problems, system failure or power outages and other technical issues like that,” Singh said.

Still, she pointed out remote exams’ benefits outweigh the disadvantages, saying “in an ever-evolving education scenario, e-assessments are at the centre of it all. It can be a powerful tool to educate students from diverse backgrounds and locations”.

Meeting expectations

Mandi Kirby

Mandi Kirby, Head of Middle School, The Arbor School in Dubai, said “statutory progress tests” will only take place when the school resumes, presumably in September. In the meanwhile, for this term, the school will continue to run ongoing internal assessments such as end-of-unit tests and end-of-year tests in Arabic and Islamic Studies.

The internal assessments, alongside data obtained in Term 1 and Term 2, “will be used to assess whether a child has met, exceeded or fallen below year-group expectations for learning”.

Business as usual

Cody Claver

Cody Claver, general manager of iCademy Middle East, an online school, said it will continue its regular exam schedule for the end of the semester. He said online exams allow teachers to “continue to get a very good understanding of how students have progressed in any given subject. Given our online format there really is no negative impact or effect on student assessment.”

Online exams make it easier to cheat

Without proctors walking down aisles in exam halls, keeping an eye on any attempt by students to cheat, schools this term are taking steps to mitigate cheating during online exams from home.

Virtual lockdown

Students of iCademy Middle East, an online school, will not be able to use other applications while sitting their exams.

“We utilise a lockdown browser feature in our online curriculum. This feature keeps students only on their exam at all times until it is submitted. Given our lockdown browser, students are not monitored face to face. However, our teachers monitor the timing of each exam and when it is started versus when it is completed,” Cody Claver, general manager iCademy said.

Lowering the stakes

Deepika Thapar Singh, CEO – Principal at Credence High School in Al Khail, Dubai, said the school is holding “low-stake” tests instead of one or two lengthy exams that carry a lot of weight in terms of final grades. “Students may be less tempted to cheat if the stakes of the exam are relatively low and less able to cheat if the exams are of short duration. Students will be monitored remotely during the exam and will be reminded to sit the exams honestly,” she added.

One fool-proof way to eliminate cheating would be, well, to not have any exams.

“We cannot check the validity of work produced during remote testing, which is why we will not be carrying out any standardised testing during this period [of distance learning]… If we cannot ascertain that the data is valid, then it is not viable for tracking attainment and progress,” Mandi Kirby, Head of Middle School, The Arbor School in Dubai, said.

The school however continues to run its ongoing internal assessments.

“When carrying out assessments students will always be informed to do it without help from another person or internet accessible device; some assessments carried out so far have been done during live lessons with students recording their answers with the teacher as the lesson proceeds. Again, as there is no external qualification as we only go up to Year 7 [Year 8 opening in September 2020], this data will be moderated against previous results, to ensure a student hasn’t suddenly exceeded previous expectations,” Kirby added.

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