Analysis Breaking

Exam result downturn was planned by the government – Michael Rosen explains

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.

Rosen writes:

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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14 comments

  1. I think this is otherwise referred to as ‘scaling’. where a set of results are adjusted to fit within desired norms – so if a degree cohort has an unexpectedly high or low number of firsts then the whole cohort is adjusted to meet the ‘required’ number. Rosen is right to give this due attention as it does negate the usual media speculation about rising or failing standards if the whole caboodle is adjusted anyway.
    You could argue that the approach was justified under COVID because of the distinctive changes to delivery (and those getting their results this year would have endured some privations as a result of the pandemic) but it is interesting to note how visible the discussion of the algorithm (actually a formula) that was used in 2020 was in comparison to the intervention this time around.

    1. OK there’s all of that but education alas always has been geared to benefit Rupert and Tabatha. I find nothing unusual in all of this except the TV has stopped showing blonde lesbians celebrating 10 A stars in the shower.

      1. The venom they speak of him, the hate, I frequently fear for his life, even now! I think in their mind we would all have just vanished entirely, beause their uptake of the GetCorbyn Campaigns are as toxic as they were 2015 to 2020. Surprise, surprise, we’re not going anywhere!

  2. Exams papers are not marked on an individual basis but as representative cohorts so that every year results will be remarkably similar, although a preference given to continual improvement. There is no such thing as an individual candidate & no comparison made between years. Everything positive.

    1. He’s still going for the easy laughs though. That show’s stale as fuck anyway. When the Last Leg book Jerry Sadowitz I’ll start paying attention again!

      1. timfrom
        Agree
        I bought his pamphlet on Politics, there’s an hour of my life I will never get back
        But
        For a time out, a few belly laughs and a bit of relief, he hits the spot for me

      2. He wrote a pamphlet on politics?! Oh dear. I bet it was so woke it was asleep.

        I’d rather go to the source – I’m going to see Sadowitz in Liverpool for my 60th. Plus you don’t get world class card magic with Boyle as well as world class misanthropy!😀

    2. He had his chance to slap a Zionist and blew it. Now all he seems to do is fulfill his contracts. He was my hero should be up there with Carlin, Rock and the acid head whose name escapes me. What a missed opportunity. Does any remember when the Zionist ran a show presenting himself as the true face of the supporters? Never saw him down the Den when Spurs dropped by. He worked with a Stoke supporters. Ask the miners ,it was a scab Manor. Possible Trots? Yeah, I’m obsessed. From Trot to Zion on to neocon, neodemon. Just look.

  3. Exam results are always more about the system than about the individual candidates. Grades are not fixed on how well the students achieve, they are fixed according to nebulous bureaucratic decision-making, as Mr Rosen explains. The graph of the results is not drawn according to the spread of the results, the results are fitted into the outcome required by the politicians of the day. Grades are determined not by how well you personally did in the exam but by how everyone else did, and where you fit in relative to the rest of the results. Hence grades are variable from year to year, and are also rather arbitrary.

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