UK’s Ofqual Sticking to Its Decision to Recenter GCSE Scores

Earlier this summer when the The Daily Telegraph announced the intention of Britain's education authorities to begin recentering GCSE scores, the news was greeted with strong criticism from education officials and teachers groups who claimed that artificially depressing grades would have a negative impact on the academic aspirations of English students. Examination regulators said that the change was necessary to avoid the impression that the exams were being "dumbed down," and to allow for easier, more meaningful year-to-year result comparisons.

Responding to the criticism, the spokesman for the Department of Education said that contrary to the assertion that the new system for assigning scores will hurt high-achieving students, it will instead give real meaning to their accomplishments.

That was before GCSE scores were mailed out to the students across the country — and since then, the clamor for the Department of Education to reevaluate their decision to re-center seems to have grown. This week, Ofqual reiterated its decision to stick to the new grade boundaries, but said that those students whose scores were impacted by the boundary change that took place this June will be allowed to re-sit their exams.

But officials insisted that June grade boundaries were accurate after "two decades of grade inflation", adding that any retrospective change would "undermine the integrity and rigour of the qualifications we regulate".
It also warned that teachers were partly to blame for the fiasco after "over-marking" internally-assessed papers and unfairly raising pupils' expectations this summer.

After the new boundaries were put into effect this summer, the overall GCSE grades fell for the first time since the exam was first administered nearly a quarter of a century ago. In the English subject test in particular, the passing percentage declined by nearly 1.5%. Teachers contend that this change means that more than 65,000 students who thought they were getting a C — and with it, a university slot — were graded a D instead, thus killing their chances to pursue university degrees.

The major source of tension is the fact that students sitting the test in January before the new grade boundaries were announced had a substantially higher chance of securing a higher grade in the exam than the students who took the test this spring. Although Ofqual's chief regulator admitted that the grade boundaries used in January were too lenient, and blamed this on the regulators' lack of familiarity with the new testing format, Ofqual insisted that this time those in charge got it right.

Ofqual insisted it would be unfair to retrospectively raise grade boundaries for more than 50,000 pupils taking assessments in the winter.

The watchdog also criticised schools' internal marking of so-called "controlled assessments" – coursework-style tasks – insisting they had been "over-reliant" on the January grade boundaries as a standards guide. Examiners were "at pains to explain to teachers that grade boundaries could change", said Ofqual, but many schools failed to heed the warnings.

09 5, 2012
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