According to results from a recently released comprehensive study of qualification standards, experts at Loughborough University specializing in math say that exams in the subject have become easier, and standards in the UK have lightened since the 1960s.
The authors discovered that a math exam receiving a score of “B” today would have only received an “E” in the 1960s. However, it also suggests that the decline could have held steady in recent years, as the report found “no evidence for decline since the 90s”.
Experts took a closer look at 66 A-level exams from the 1960s, 1990s, and this year, finding that the most drastic decline took place between 1968 and 1996. Josie Gurney-Read for The Telegraph suggests that this could mean that students who took these exams prior to 1996 could have received a higher grade on the same exam had they taken it more recently. Those students who took exams in the 1960s could have been off by as much as three letter grades.
The report suggests that the decline could have derived from examiners “giving candidates the benefit of the doubt” in combination with pressure to “design predictable examinations.”
The study is being released at the same time major reforms are being considered for exams in England. The first new GCSEs and A-levels in a number of subjects, including English and math, were introduced last fall.
Ministers supporting the changes say they are needed in order to make qualifications more rigorous.
A separate study introduced earlier this month by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) took a closer look at math standards in 15-year-olds, finding that more than one in five teenagers in the UK are considered to be “low performers” in math. Critics suggest this is due to a shortage of teachers who specialize in the subject.
Despite those who say that the standards are consistently declining, the recent report suggests that the drop took place over three decades and largely came to an end in the 1990s.
Dr Ian Jones, from Loughborough University, who led today’s study, said: “There has been ongoing concern that maths A-levels are getting easier. Whilst our study does show a decline in standards between the 1960s and 1990s, there is no evidence to suggest there has been further decline in the last 20 years. Our study has overcome limitations of previous research in this area, making it the most robust of its kind. With debate continuing about the standard of maths exams it’s important the decision makers have the best evidence available to them.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education spoke of the situation, saying a new math curriculum has been implemented with a gold standard A-level at GCSE. He added that the recent changes will help to make up for the grade inflation that had previously occurred.