Remarks on Regrading

I haven’t had time thus far to comment on the ongoing row about GCSE examinations, but was inspired to do a quick lunchtime postette when I read some of Chief Stooge Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s comments over the weekend.

It seems Mr Clegg objects to Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews’ decision to order the examination board WJEC to regrade GCSEs in English, as a response to a report from regulatory officials arguing that the grading process had been unfair and that it had disadvantaged students. As a result of Leighton Andrews’ intervention, over two thousand Welsh students of English have received higher grades than initially awarded.  In England, on the other hand, the regulator Ofqual decided not to regrade examinations, but to offer students the chance to resit.

Here is a statement from a spokesperson for the Welsh Government explaining the different approaches in England and Wales:

Unlike in England where responsibility for qualifications is devolved through legislation to Ofqual, in Wales the Welsh Ministers have regulatory responsibility for the qualifications taken by learners.

In requiring the regrading to take place, the Minister was fulfilling properly these regulatory responsibilities. The decision to carry out the re-grade in Wales led to the swift resolution of an injustice served to well over 2,000 Welsh candidates.

The decision to direct the WJEC to carry out this work was about fairness and ensuring that Welsh students got the grades they deserved for the work they put into their examination. The result of the re-grade was the only acceptable outcome for learners affected by a questionable grading methodology.

Candidates can now rest assured that the process used to determine their final grades was fair and just.

Nick Clegg accuses the Welsh government of “moving the goalposts” – Westminster politicians can always be relied upon to produce  a tired cliché at the drop of a hat – and accused Mr Andrews of political interference.

I think what I’m going to say may prove quite controversial with readers of this blog, but I think Leighton Andrews did the right thing. He has responsibility for regulating the examination system in Wales, and his officials told him the grades were likely to be wrong. He therefore stepped in and ordered the examinations to be  regraded. What’s the problem?

Minister for Education Michael Gove has already admitted that the grading of GCSE examinations this year was indeed unfair, but he decided not to intervene and left it up to Ofqual to decide what to do. I don’t think this because he was worried about political interference in the examination system, as he’s been all over the exam system like a rash in recent months. He decided not to intervene because he wants to kill CGSEs, and the problems this year have probably done just that.

Presumably Nick Clegg’s response to the grading errors would just have involved saying “sorry”….

But whatever the rights and wrongs of Michael Gove and Leighton Andrews, I think this episode just demonstrates what a complete mess the examination system really is.  If anyone previously thought they knew what a grade C in English was supposed to mean then the behaviour of the exam boards this year will have convinced them otherwise. Students and parents must surely now regard the whole process as arbitrary and meaningless.

It’s also a shame that we now seem to think that education is entirely about examinations and qualifications, as if tinkering with the grades that come out of one end of the process somehow means that the students have learned more.  If  more people grasped the fact that there’s much more to education than bits of paper or rankings in league tables then the power of those in authority to depress and demoralize students and teachers would be immediately diminished.

That wouldn’t solve all the problems in our education system, but it would be a start.

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2 Responses to “Remarks on Regrading”

  1. John Peacock Says:

    Peter: maybe I misunderstood the reporting of this, but I thought what had happened was that some students were allowed to take the exam earlier in the year, and that these papers were marked too leniently. If that’s really true, then there is no case for applying similar leniency to the bulk of the papers that were sat later. If the early students really got the benefit of an error, that should be the end of it.

    So the thing that puzzles me is why people sat the exam at different times, causing these calibration issues. I guess it’s the modern evil of modularization, which now afflicts universities. We have to put up with longer teaching terms so that increasing numbers of courses can be examined half-way through – so that students can put material behind them before they’ve had a chance to digest it to any significant degree. I can’t understand why universities, or schools, permit this to happen.

    • I don’t think it was the same exam that was taken at two different times, unless I’ve misunderstood it too, but two different exams supposedly leading to the same qualification. Marking criteria were apparently not consistent between the two assessments.

      See

      http://wales.gov.uk/newsroom/educationandskills/2012/regradinggcse/?lang=en

      This explains that there were two problems with the WJEC GCSE English. One that grade boundaries were changed between the two examinations and the other that there were “significant problems with the methodology used to award grades” in the later examinations. It’s the second of these that caused the re-grading.

      It does seem that these problems stem from the fact that students can take different exams for what is ostensibly the same qualification. It would make more sense for all candidates to take the same paper at the same time. Indeed it seems that WJEC has withdrawn the “unitised” assessment and introduced a new “linear” examination that does just that:

      http://www.wjec.co.uk/index.php?subject=51&level=7

      I’d still prefer all students everywhere to take the same papers at the same time, which would avoid a lot of the muddle and need for fixes after the fact.

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