Examination Shenanigans

So here I am in my office while the first batch of our repeat examinations gets under way here in Maynooth. They seem to have started correctly so I’ve taken a break to have a cup of coffee and catch up on the news.

I find that examinations seem to be making headlines in the United Kingdom. First there was a to-do and a hoo-ha in Scotland that resulted in school examination results that had been downgraded being upgraded again. The downgrading involved using some sort of statistical model to `correct’ teacher-assigned grades and coursework but this model apparently generated significant anomalies.

Then, not to be outdone by the Scots, the English government has announced that estimated A-level grades, presumably obtained by a similar process to that deployed in Scotland, were to be upgraded too. Or not. It seems they will get the original grades but be able to appeal the results.

Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph, presumably without irony, Gavin Williamson explains the decision not to upgrade A-level results automatically:

Increasing the A Level grades will mean a whole generation could end up promoted beyond their abilities.

Gavin Williamson wrote that. Gavin Williamson.

Universities in the UK receive A-level results a few days before the students in order to make admissions decisions, but this year the results students eventually receive may differ from those the universities got. I can imagine the chaos this is causing behind the scenes.

If I understand correctly the new `Triple Lock’ on A-level results means that a student’s grade will be whichever is the highest of:

  • their mock exam result;
  • the grade estimated by their teacher;
  • an A*.

(OK, I made up that last bit.)

Some people think this approach might lead to grade inflation, but I imagine the authorities are less concerned about that than they are by the prospect of getting sued.

Another issue with the downgrading/upgrading situation is that students who took the International Baccalaureate (IB) and have received algorithmic grades have not had their grades increased, which seems to put them at a disadvantage with respect to students who took A-levels and may cause them to miss out on UK university places.

Meanwhile, here in Ireland, we await the School Leaving Certificate results. These are not due until 7th September but I think the plan is to moderate them as in the United Kingdom. Delaying these results gives Ireland the chance to learn from the UK but whether the process will end up being any fairer here is anyone’s guess!

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