The results of British exams meant to test student knowledge upon graduation from secondary school — namely A-Levels and GCSEs — will now be re-centered, the Daily Telegraph reports. The improved system will allow the exam results to serve as a better basis for comparison between graduates year-to-year. The coalition government introduced this grading policy change in an effort to make sure that the exams aren’t getting too easy or “dumbed down” in light of the fact that the average grades for both the GCSE and the A-Levels have been rising rapidly for the past ten years.
A document from the exams regulator seen by The Independent newspaper says: “If necessary we will require exam boards to change their grade boundaries…. [so that] roughly the same proportion of students will achieve each grade as in the previous year.”
School officials and teachers are arguing that the change would punish some of the highest-achieving students in the country by assigning grades that would be lower than they could expect to get the previous years. But a Department of Education spokesperson countered that assertion saying that, to the contrary, re-centering scores would show high-performing students that their achievement is a meaningful reflection of their hard work and not just a fringe benefit of rampant grade inflation.
By re-centering — or, as it is know in Britain, making use of “comparable outcomes” — the government is returning to the policy it followed up until 1987 when only 10% of the country’s students received A scores on their A-levels.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, argued that it is a sensible temporary measure to stop A-level results becoming meaningless before the exam system is improved overall.
But Adrian Prandle, the education policy adviser for the Association for Teachers and Lecturers, says that the priority should be on making sure that grades given to students sitting exams aren’t lower than they deserve. The strict enforcement of the grade boundaries could mean that even the best-performing students will not be able to attain the highest possible grade, which may hamper their opportunity to attend the best universities after graduation.
“If exam boards can ensure that pupils who sit an exam this year won’t get lower grades than they deserve then we welcome it,” he said. “However, if as a consequence of tougher rules on grade boundaries, pupils are denied the opportunity to gain the highest grade of which they are capable and which they would have got in another year, then they will be unfairly disadvantaged,” he told The Independent.
“In these tough economic circumstances, that will hit pupils’ future chances hard.”