UK: GCSE Grades Artificially Depressed

This year the number of GCSE pupils receiving grades A* to C fell for the first time in the exam's history. There were immediate concerns that scores may have been deliberately depressed to combat the perceived problem of ‘grade inflation'. According to the Telegraph, 800 state secondary schools have now submitted evidence that scores have been artificially depressed in at least GCSE English. The grade boundaries for GCSE English were significantly raised — by as much as 10% in some modules — between the January and June assessments.

Government insiders insist the move was made because January boundaries were too low and action was taken to prevent dramatic grade inflation this summer.

In a letter to head teachers at the weekend, Glenys Stacey, the Ofqual chief regulator, said there was "always a risk of these difficulties with a modular system", when exams are taken in bite-sized chunks through the year.

Blaming the module system for the problem isn't entirely inaccurate, as it has long been considered that it makes exams far too easy without encouraging long-term retention of knowledge or its application. However, it's also a soft and safe target, as it's a problem that has already been fixed. All pupils starting GCSEs this September will sit exams at the end of the course.

Teachers' leaders estimate that the move meant 10,000 pupils who would have received a C in English received a D instead. Brian Lightman is general secretary of ASCL:

"Part of the reason we are in this situation is the constant tinkering each year with GCSE exams. This has to stop. We need a reasoned, thoughtful debate about the long-term future of exams at 16, leading to a properly planned and implemented set of reforms with a workable timescale."

Ofqual is also facing teachers' ire as other head teacher leaders, such as Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, demand an independent transparent review. They believe the Ofqual probe doesn't go far enough or answer its own culpability questions, and Hobby believes an independent review would help to restore some credibility to the system as well as giving affected pupils the truth about what went wrong.

MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee have yet to decide whether to hold their own inquiry on the matter, with a decision expected in the coming weeks. If an investigation is held it is expected to look at whether Ofqual pressured individual exam boards to keep grade rises down.

Hobby is determined that students and their families, many of whom may suffer long term academic and job consequences as a result of not getting a C grade, have an avenue to ascertain the truth.

"We will continue to put pressure on all concerned and we will consider a legal challenge, should it become necessary."

08 30, 2012
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