James Garraway, Institutional ECP Co-ordinator , shares his insights on the recent information sharing session on the National Benchmarking Tests.
On 7 March, the ECP Unit at Fundani hosted, Robert Prince from the Centre for Educational Testing for Access and Placement (CETAP) at UCT, on our Bellville and Cape Town campuses. Robert conducted an introductory presentation on the ‘new generation’ national benchmarking test initiative; new generation because we are trialing the test as a diagnostic, to help inform teaching in our ECP offerings. 24 ECP departments have signed up to undertake the test with their first year ECP cohorts of 2017. The tests are scheduled to take place between 13 – 17 March on both on various locations.
The NBT has had a rocky ride at CPUT, having been rejected by successive Vice Chancellors and Senate as both too expensive (it is R80 per test) and potentially discriminatory in that it serves to exclude historically disadvantaged students. There have always been two responses here. Firstly, the university via ECP has funded students writing the tests in registration week, but this has not been successful with few students attending sessions. Secondly the ECP has made clear that the testing is NOT for selection but to identify potentially at-risk students so that once selected they can be given the support they need. In my view the benefits of using the tests to give students a better chance of success at the university far outweigh concerns around costing and the (incorrect) understanding that it is a selection tool.
Most ECP students are writing the test at the end of the term. CETAP will then analyse the results, department by department, and give feedback on the sorts of teaching interventions students would require. One example given by Robert was the maths skill of factorisation, which is part of the maths test. If students score poorly here then it is an indication that students need to be overtly taught this maths principle, even if it was in the school syllabus. If it is not overtly taught then students will struggle with more advanced maths such as quadratics which require knowledge of factorisation. The proposal, then, is that staff across ECP will derive interventions based on the test results which they will ‘try out’ in Term 2. Then we can see if there is some change in student learning in following terms, and whether a more permanent curriculum change is necessary to best support students. This is good in itself but it can match to another purpose as well, the Quality Enhancement Project. In this project we are expected to report on how we have transformed the curriculum in response to student needs. The NBT diagnostic project clearly can contribute to the quality project.