Teachers predict pupil success just as well as exam scores

Teacher assessments predict GCSE and A-level results just as well as earlier exam scores.


Educational achievement is important to children as individuals as well as to society in general. Education enhances the intellectual capital of society; it is one of the most expensive governmental interventions, costing around 6% of the gross domestic product of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The educational curriculum in the UK is highly standardized in terms of content and delivery, as well as an assessment of pupils’ performance. Children go through rigorous teacher assessments and standardized exams throughout compulsory education, culminating with the GCSE exams and A‐level exams. These exams are a major tipping point directing young individuals towards different lifelong trajectories.

However, little is known about the associations between teacher assessments and exam performance or how well these two measurement approaches predict educational outcomes at the end of compulsory education and beyond.

A new study by the King’s College London recently found that teacher’s assessments are equally as reliable as standardized exams at predicting educational success.

Teacher assessments were found to correlate strongly with exam scores across English, mathematics, and science from age 7-14, with both measures equally as powerful at predicting later exam success. Teacher assessments predicted around 90% of the differences between pupils in exam performance at GCSE and A-level.

Past study has observed how either exam scores or teacher assessments predict educational success, but not compared the two.

In this study, scientists used the UK–representative Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) sample of over 5,000 twin pairs studied longitudinally from childhood to young adulthood (age 7–18). They showed a strong genetic correlation between teacher assessments and exam scores, confirming that both measures were identifying the same pupils and largely measuring the same ability.

Still, scientists suggest that teachers should assess their pupils until age 14, and children sit standardized exams throughout school education in the UK, including SATS at age 7 and 11, GCSEs at age 16 and A-levels at age 18.

Co-lead researcher Dr. Kaili Rimfeld, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), said, “We are not arguing against testing in general, or that teacher should increase their workloads by adding further assessments. On the contrary, we have demonstrated that current methods of teacher assessment are powerful predictors of success, allowing schools to reduce testing and still monitor progress effectively.”

Co-lead researcher Dr. Margherita Malanchini, from the IoPPN and the University of Texas at Austin, said, “Our results should inform the debate about testing during both primary and secondary education. Trusting teachers to implement the curriculum and monitor progress could benefit the wellbeing of pupils and teachers and help to bring joy back to the classroom.”

Scientists are now planning to find the association between school experiences and mental health among young people.

The study is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.