Author looked at detail of this year’s exam results – and what the media are ignoring in headlines and analysis
Much-loved author Michael Rosen has posted on Facebook about this year’s exam result downturn – and points out that it was always planned by the government, despite the anguish it has caused to many children.
Any news report which states that this year’s GCSE results have either ‘fallen’ (in relation to another year) or ‘risen’ (in relation to another year) is not revealing that the exam boards ‘dropped’ or ‘lifted’ the grades. It was ‘part of a plan’ (Minister, Will Quince) or a ‘marking approach’ (BBC website : ‘The same “midway point” marking approach applied to this year’s A-levels – where the proportion of top grades was down from last year but higher than 2019.’)
The ‘plan’ or ‘marking approach’ was that this year’s results would be worse than last year’s but better than 2019. This is not me saying this. This is right at the bottom of the BBC write-up. Deep in the heart of Ofqual’s write-ups at gov.uk you’ll find the word ‘expectation’ being used. It is with this ‘expectation’ that the ‘grade boundaries’ are placed over the ‘raw’ marking that examiners do.
The whole distribution of these grade boundaries is itself determined by what’s been called the Bell Curve. That’s to say, a fixed distribution of grades according to a shape resembling a bell on a graph. This assumes that human behaviour (as with doing exams) is identical to the distribution of things in nature such as the size of clouds. At the very least, this matter of distribution as applied to human behaviour is disputed. The consequence of the Bell Curve being used is that if for any reason more students appear to do brilliantly or worse ‘than expected’, the exam board will shift the ‘pass mark’ so that they can achieve the Bell Curve.
It’s sad that the media either do not understand or deliberately misreport how national exams work. As a consequence, hours and hours of media time is taken up with speculation about why or how this or that interpretation can be put on the results. This has a knock-on effect on teachers – who may be wondering why or how their students got the results they did; and indeed on students with the same concerns and worries.Michael Rosen (emphases added)
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