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Exams: changing the rules of the game while you are playing will not rebuild trust

Blog Editor, IOE Digital26 February 2021

Melanie Ehren.

In December last year, Ofqual announced a new expert group to rebuild trust in the exam system. The group is to look into how data on schools’ and students’ performance could be “better and more widely shared”, thereby prising open the box of secrets containing the data and processes that drive the awarding of exam grades.

The group’s appointment could not come at a better time; Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has since announced that teachers’ estimated grades will replace cancelled GCSEs and A-levels in England this summer, saying that he would “trust in teachers rather than algorithms”, a reference to last year’s exams U-turn. Today, Government announced new plans for teacher assessed GCSEs, AS and A levels which will include a series of ‘mini-exams’.

But is this alternative approach the best way forward to rebuild trust in exams? Or do we need a wider set of strategies?

To answer the question, we first look at whose trust needs to be rebuilt. (more…)

Pick ‘n Mix approach to results is causing Allsorts of anxiety for students and damage of trust

Blog Editor, IOE Digital13 August 2020

SHAWSHANK61 / Pixabay

Mary Richardson.

At 8am on 13 August, some five months after the coronavirus took hold of our lives in England, a generation of young people waited anxiously for the release of their Advanced (A) Level results. News reporting is always very excitable on this day and online news feeds and social media streams are traditionally filled with images of young people jumping for joy. The 2020 results day has been a more visually muted affair, but that isn’t solely due to the pandemic. The increase in attainment of A and A* grades almost 28%) has been overshadowed by the fact that, due to the way the data has been modelled, two in every five grades were lower than those predicted by the candidates’ teachers and the poorest students are hardest hit.

Earlier this year, I was cautiously optimistic about the enhanced role that teacher judgment would play in this year’s awarding cycle and how it could change our view of the professional work of teachers. Concern about the potential bias involved in teacher judgment has dominated much of the assessment discourse this year, but the public were assured that this was only one part of the awarding process to determine results. However, things began to look very diffferent a week ago in Scotland, when it was found that some 120,000 grades had been moderated downwards by the regulator.  A public outcry resulted in a swift u-turn via the First Minister and teacher grades were reinstated.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Schools Minister Nick Gibb were looking anxiously over the border on the afternoon prior to results day in England as they announced their triple lock, or as I like to call it, their “pick ‘n’ mix” approach to selecting A level results in 2020.

How about a (more…)

Covid-19 and education: Why have we waited until now to improve the accuracy of predicted grades?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital3 April 2020

Gill Wyness

For students expecting to take their A-Levels and BTECs this summer, the impact of COVID-19 will be profound. Instead of taking the formal examinations that they were preparing for, Ofqual confirmed today that school leavers will be provided with a set of grades based on teacher judgement, which will, in turn, form the basis of their university applications. This plan has attracted a fair amount of criticism, with fears that the system may be biased, and might lead to certain groups of students missing out on a university place because of a bad prediction.

But it is worth noting that this is already how students apply to university, so it is perhaps surprising that there is suddenly such widespread resistance to the idea of predicted grades. However, my recent study with Richard Murphy (University of Texas at Austin) suggests that fears that these predicted grades might be inaccurate may be well-grounded.

The UK’s system of university applications has the peculiar feature that students apply to university on the basis of predicted rather than actual exam grades. In fact, only (more…)