Quick link at September 02, 2020 at 10:03AM

The fallout from the exams fiasco continues, with reports that Williamson was warned weeks before results day that the algorithm was flawed and unfair. He’s previously said that he was only aware of “real concerns” after the results were published. But perhaps the system was always broken.

Back to school #3

The start of a new term, one like no other.

Pupils return to school across England and Wales as Jeremy Hunt backs call for ‘rapid testing’ in classroomsLondon Evening Standard
[T]he former health secretary Jeremy Hunt backed a call from epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson for “rapid testing” to be introduced in schools, using a similar model to that used in Germany … “I think he is right, and the reason he is right is because we know something now we didn’t know back in January, which is that about 70 per cent of the people who transmit coronavirus don’t have any symptoms at all and so that makes it much harder to get public consent for things like sending people back to school or going back to offices and so on because it is a silent transmitter and even a silent killer sometimes. The way you get round that is by having very quick, very effective large-scale testing.”

Germany faces a ‘roller coaster’ as schools reopen amid coronavirusThe New York Times
Germany, like other countries that have managed the pandemic fairly well, was quick to deploy widespread testing, effective contact tracing and tests with rapid results. Crucially, that has helped keep the rate of community transmission low. So far, the lesson from Germany, Denmark and Norway, among the first countries to start the new school year, is that schools can reopen and remain open — if they build on that kind of foundation. But most countries, and most parts of the United States, simply can’t match those conditions.

This isn’t just a problem for schools, of course.

Fears over COVID-19 spread in universities as students set to make ‘UK’s biggest annual migration’Sky News
The start of a new university year is “the biggest migration of people on an annual basis in the UK,” Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, says. “That’s a million students, moving across country, cycling in and out of lockdown zones, of bubbles, of homes, into new cities, where we are not track and tracking those students, we are not testing those students,” she said. “We are seriously concerned that if the government and universities do not step in and discourage this… we could see universities becoming the care homes of the second wave of COVID-19.”

Fewer shots, more sanitiser: Manchester prepares for freshers week in the time of CovidThe Guardian
In university cities and towns across the country, students are set to encounter a transformed reality next month. The bustling student district of Fallowfield, which once had its raucous house parties debated in parliament, is one of many places that will have to trim its sails.

The area is home to Manchester University’s main accommodation block, and businesses are quietly gearing up for what is usually one of their busiest months, without quite knowing what the return of students will bring. Promoters would usually be dotted on street corners, attempting to lure twentysomethings with £1 shots. But now, when students arrive, they will be greeted by floor markings, hand sanitiser, and signs reminding them to keep socially distanced.

But maybe everything will be OK?

Why heading back to school isn’t as big a risk as it soundsWired UK
“What’s happened between June and now, is that we now know that young children, so those under ten, have negligible risk from the virus and don’t appear to be transmitting it much either,” says David Strain, clinical senior lecturer and honorary consultant at University of Exeter Medical School. “In June, we knew that the children could catch the virus, and they had no disease. But we didn’t know, at that point, whether they could then take that virus home and spread it on to their parents and grandparents.” One worry is that children will spread the virus to vulnerable members of their household – an elderly relative or shielder. But, luckily, children aren’t as contagious as adults. […]

What is clear is that children staying out of school is hugely damaging – not just in regards to the loss of education, but whether the children come from vulnerable settings, are neglected at home, or at risk of domestic violence. Schools provide a refuge for these children. “We’ve seen an entire generation lose six months worth of education – for some this is their formative years,” says Strain. “This is further driving health and educational inequalities.”

Time for a ‘Nightingale moment’ for England’s children, says watchdogThe Guardian
Invoking the gargantuan effort taken to build Nightingale hospitals for thousands of Covid patients in a matter of weeks, and the £35bn furlough scheme to save jobs, Anne Longfield said children’s recovery from missing months of school would take up to a year and would have a profound psychological impact. […]

“The government needs to be bold, and on the sort of scale that saw hospitals built in weeks, and workers paid in furlough, to make sure no child is left behind. If not, they risk losing a generation for good. The stakes are simply that high,” she said.

Any lessons from history?

Schools beat earlier plagues with outdoor classes. We should, tooThe New York Times
The subsequent New England winter was especially unforgiving, but children stayed warm in wearable blankets known as “Eskimo sitting bags” and with heated soapstones placed at their feet. The experiment was a success by nearly every measure — none of the children got sick. Within two years there were 65 open-air schools around the country either set up along the lines of the Providence model or simply held outside. In New York, the private school Horace Mann conducted classes on the roof; another school in the city took shape on an abandoned ferry.

Distressingly, little of this sort of ingenuity has greeted the effort to reopen schools amid the current public-health crisis.

A classroom on a ferry in New York City, circa 1915.

If schools do have to close again, we’ll be better prepared next time, right?

Coronavirus: how can teachers prepare better for remote learning?Tes
The principle of generative learning is that there are activities that we can ask pupils to do in which they create new learning for themselves. All these activities involve pupils taking new information from a source – such as teacher explanation, a written text, video clip etc – and then going through the process of: selecting relevant information; organising it; integrating it into their prior knowledge.

There’s a mountain to climb, even without any further closures.

Pupils three months behind as new term starts, study claimsSchools Week
The research has prompted warnings that catch-up must not be seen as a “quick-turnaround solution”, with schools facing a “range of barriers” as they reopen. The survey also found that almost half of pupils need “intensive catch-up support”, with those from the most deprived schools and institutions with the highest proportion of pupils from BAME backgrounds “in greatest need”.

Next year’s exam season will be rolling around before you know it.

GCSEs and A-levels: Decision on exam delay promised ‘very soon’BBC News
This is expected to be part of a wider strategy on how next summer’s exams will operate when so much school has been missed because of the pandemic.

3 ways to avoid repeating the exam grade fiascoTes
Teachers are calling for reduced exam content and a new national system for moderating grades to avoid a repeat of this year’s exam grade controversy.

Perhaps some people need to go back to school more than others.

Ofqual chief Sally Collier steps down after exams chaosBBC News
“This move follows the failure of the statistical model that led to this year’s grading fiasco, but the fault is not hers alone,” said the head of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton. “Ministers have questions to answer over the extent to which they scrutinised and challenged the methodology and reliability of the statistical model, particularly given the enormity of the task and the importance of getting it right.”

Everything that went wrong with the botched A-Levels algorithmWired UK
“This whole story has really highlighted the problems that there are around automated decision making, in particular when it’s deployed by the public sector,” says Tennison. “This has hit the headlines, because it affects so many people across the country, and it affects people who have a voice. There’s other automated decision making that goes on all the time, around benefits, for example, that affect lots of people who don’t have this strong voice.”

Can algorithms ever make the grade?Ada Lovelace Institute
Hindsight delivers 20:20 vision, as we know. But Ofqual should have been aware that it was deploying an algorithm against a backdrop of existing public scepticism towards algorithmic systems, and an environment of tenuous trust in Government data use. It needed not only to meet, but to exceed existing standards for transparency and accountability, to avoid doing indelible harm to public confidence in data-driven decision making. […]

It would be easy to blame Ofqual here, but the choice of goals – in algorithms as in policy more broadly – is a political question, not just a technical one. Professor Jo-Anne Baird, a member of Ofqual’s Standing Advisory Group, has publicly stated that Ofqual was specifically directed to deliver exam results that controlled grade inflation, and within those parameters, this algorithm is the best you can get. So why did the public have to wait until results day in August to find out that this was the goal?

The lessons we all must learn from the A-levels algorithm debacleWired UK
The statistical problems within the algorithm – such as the ability to only award a certain number of each grade per school – could have been spotted before it was deployed. But external expert advice was ignored months before results day. Members of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) offered to help Ofqual in April, but faced five-year non-disclosure agreements if they wanted to be involved in the project. The RSS experts said they believed some of the issues with the algorithm could have been avoided if independent expert advice was taken.

How might Ofqual have avoided this turmoil?HEPI
Ofqual were set a nearly impossible task: Provide students with the grades that they would most likely have achieved had they sat their exams, while maintaining overall national standards for prior years, and protecting groups from being systematically advantaged or disadvantaged. The methodology arguably failed on all three aims. The situation we’re left with is in many ways worse. But could this all have been avoided had the methodology been better designed and communicated?

Ironic really, the DfE’s failure to learn lessons

School exams and Covid: what could the UK have learned from EU?The Guardian
The French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced in April that the country’s 740,000 final-year students would be awarded an average grade for each subject based on coursework and tests during the first two terms. Local juries assessed and – if necessary – adjusted students’ grades according to national averages and on schools’ past examination records. The pass rate for the 2020 bac was over 95%, more than seven percentage points higher than the previous year, forcing the government last month to create about 10,000 extra university places for September in the most popular subject areas.

Update 17/08/2020

So it seems lessons can be learnt.

A-level and GCSE results in England to be based on teacher assessments in U-turnThe Guardian
The climbdown comes after days of turmoil triggered by the publication of A-level results last Thursday, when almost 40% of predicted results were downgraded, with some students marked down two or even three grades, which resulted in many losing university places.

Update 20/08/2020

What could possibly go wrong?

Students get ‘bizarre’ rises from moderated gradesTes
A headteacher of a West Yorkshire school said that, in one case, a pupil forecast a grade 1 in a subject had been given an 8 after the Ofqual moderating process. He also had 12 students in the same subject where final grades were four grades higher than the centre assessed grades produced by the school.

An anxious wait

It’s A-level results day tomorrow. Now would not be a good time to introduce any last minute changes to the process, you would think, especially given that universities have already had the results since last Friday and have completed many of their admissions decisions. But this government has a reputation to uphold.

Triple lock for students ahead of A level and GCSE resultsGOV.UK
Students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive a valid mock result, or sit autumn exams to ensure the achievements of young people are recognised. Ofqual has been asked to determine how and when valid mock results can be used to calculate grades.

That’s no easy question for Ofqual to answer, given how varied the mock exam process can be across our schools.

Replacement A-level grades ‘no lower than mock exams’BBC News
But head teachers’ leader Geoff Barton was highly critical of this late change – and said the marking of mock exams was not consistent enough between schools to be used to decide A-level results. “The idea of introducing at the eleventh hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief,” said the leader of the ASCL heads teachers’ union. “The government doesn’t appear to understand how mock exams work. They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards. The clue is in the name ‘mock’,” said Mr Barton.

Something is needed, though. I can only imagine how much anguish for the students and extra work for the schools this is going to create.

A-level grade appeals in England will benefit only ‘small group’, says ministerThe Guardian
“Most people can rely on this standardisation model in delivering the right result,” said Gibb, stressing that without the computer-aided moderation, there would have been grade inflation of 12%. … He also confirmed that, as the Guardian reported last week, 40% of grades have been downgraded by the standardisation model.

Getting the students in order

Ofqual have set out how GCSEs and A levels will be awarded this summer, following the cancellation of this year’s exams. It’s not just about the students’ mock exam results, but nor is it just a grade they’re after.

How GCSEs, AS & A levels will be awarded in summer 2020GOV.UK
Exam boards will be contacting schools, colleges and other exam centres after Easter asking them to submit, by a deadline that will be no earlier than 29 May 2020, the following:

  • a centre assessment grade for every student in each of their subjects: that is, the grade they would be most likely to have achieved if they had sat their exams and completed any non-exam assessment. Judgements should balance different sources of evidence such as: classwork; bookwork; any participation in performances in subjects such as music, drama or PE; any non-exam assessment […]
  • the rank order of students within each grade for each subject – for example, for all those students with a centre assessment grade of 5 in GCSE maths, a rank order where 1 is the most secure/highest attaining student, and so on. This information will be used in the statistical standardisation of centres’ judgements – allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across all schools and colleges

That last point could be a non-trivial matter, to say the least, though you can see why they’re asking for it.

Coronavirus: Schools will rank GCSE and A-level pupils within gradesSchools Week
The rank order will help determine which pupils move between grades during the standardisation process, which will be run by the exam boards in order to ensure that pupils are not disadvantaged by generous or severe assessment.

But what about the other qualifications?

Exam regulator unveils GCSE and A-level plans for coronavirus crisisThe Guardian
The new system will affect around 1.5 million pupils studying for this year’s GCSEs, A-levels and AS-levels in England, as well as many in Wales. Details are still unclear for those taking BTec and vocational or technical qualifications at schools and colleges.

More to follow, then.

Trusting the teachers

The schools are closed and GCSEs and A-Levels are to be replaced with teacher assessments (partly). That might not sound very robust, but this research from 2019 (how timely!) suggests otherwise.

Don’t worry about cancelled exams – research shows we should switch to teacher assessment permanently – The Conversation
Teacher assessments during compulsory education are as reliable and stable as standardised exam scores. We can – and should – trust teacher assessments as indicators of pupils’ achievement. This advice is based on a study carried out with a UK-representative sample of more than 10,000 children. We hope that our findings will alleviate some of the concerns of the pupils and parents affected by the exam cancellation. […]

Might the “high financial, pedagogical and psychological costs of standardised exams” suggest that this is another area that’s permanently changed, once things go back to normal?

For these reasons, our results suggest that substituting high-stakes exams for teacher assessments might be a good thing, not just during the current Covid-19 crisis, but on a permanent basis.

We call for you to trust teachers during these difficult times. We should do whatever we can to bring joy back to the classroom – or, as it is now, the virtual classroom. We must trust our teachers to teach the curriculum and to assess students’ progress and abilities. The wellbeing of students, their parents and their teachers would benefit from it.

Could do better?

Politicians got a taste of their own medicine whilst they waited for the results of the PISA tests this year. The Programme for International Student Assessment is a way of measuring how effective countries’ education ministers are in improving education standards.

And this year’s results? For some, it was good news.

English school children are climbing the international league tables as rest of the UK lags behindThe Telegraph

Welsh PISA education stats show improvements but country still falling behind rest of UKPowys County Times

Pisa rankings: Irish teens among the best at reading in developed worldThe Irish Times

Keeping score: PISA results has Alberta top of the class in reading, scienceEdmonton Journal

For others, less so.

PISA 2018 test results show over 4 in 10 Romanian students don’t understand what they read; education minister not that worriedRomania Insider

‘It just isn’t working’: PISA test scores cast doubt on U.S. education effortsThe New York Times

PISA tests: Israeli students consistently behind developed worldThe Jerusalem Post

The PISA problem: ‘The rest of the world is moving away from us’The Sydney Morning Herald

So is there anything to learn from this?

After two decades of PISA tests, why haven’t scores risen more?The Economist
The hope at the turn of the millennium was that the wealth of new information would help identify what makes a school system tick, prompting others to follow their lead, and thus causing results to rise across the board. This is not quite how things have worked out. Despite the fact that spending per pupil in the OECD has risen by 15%, average performance in reading, maths and science remains essentially the same as when the tests started. Pick a country at random and it is just as likely to have regressed as improved.

could-do-better

As The Economist’s article goes on to say, “If a silver bullet for improving education existed it would have been discovered by now.”

A big problem is that many education ministers still pay too little attention to the evidence. Others are hemmed in by the fact they must listen to the views of teachers and parents, who do not always know best. Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the OECD, bemoans the fact that lots of countries have, for instance, prioritised shrinking classes over hiring and training excellent teachers, despite evidence suggesting this is a bad idea. As he points out, one place that has given the quality of the teacher priority over the size of the class is Shanghai. Another is Singapore. And they are reaping the benefits.

Let’s see what our own government make of it all.

They’re doing their best

People are getting a little twitchy about GCSE results day tomorrow, I think.

Poorer pupils twice as likely to fail key GCSEs
Russell Hobby, the chief executive of the education charity Teach First, which carried out the research, said: “A child’s postcode should never determine how well they do at school, yet today we’ve found huge disparities based on just that. Low attainment at GCSE is a real cause for concern as it can shut doors to future success and holds young people back from meeting their aspirations.”

Pupils ‘refusing to sit GCSE exams in new tougher format’
“Making exams harder doesn’t make kids smarter or more employable. It does make them more stressed, anxious and depressed – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” one senior teacher told ASCL.

Another said it was “soul-destroying” to see well-prepared students struggle to cope: “The difficulty of reformed GCSEs places undue stresses upon students and staff. The sheer volume of examinations in such a short space of time leads to tired and weary students.”

GCSE results: further decline in arts and technical subjects
This is a story echoed elsewhere, in the decline in arts GCSE and A-levels and the steady but steep decline in BTEC vocationally related qualifications. And it seems to blame for these changes is the arrival of the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) – a set of subjects at GCSE that are said to keep “young people’s options open for further study and future careers” – but which appears to do the opposite.

Exam stress

It’s that time of year again.

Top performing Leeds school makes exam blunder leaving pupils clueless on rogue question
Year 11 students at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley were dumbfounded on Monday, May 20, when a question appeared on their GCSE paper in Religious Studies asking about a topic they had not been taught. …

Headteacher Janet Sheriff confirmed the school has launched an immediate investigation and called on the exam board to apply ‘special consideration’ – although pupils and parents will only find out if the appeal has been successful when they open the envelope containing their results in August.

A few weeks ago, The Guardian ran this story.

Sajid Javid urged to act in immigration scandal ‘bigger than Windrush’
The drive to find and deport potential cheats began during Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary, when she promised to create a “hostile environment” for migrants deemed to be in the country illegally.

Thousands of students who have remained in the UK to fight to clear their reputations have spent the past five years attempting to prove that they are not guilty of cheating, but most have struggled because the Home Office has told them they have no right of appeal in the UK and must leave the country.

But then today we have this.

English test students may have been wrongly accused, says watchdog
About 2,500 students have been forcibly removed from the UK after being accused of cheating in the exam and a further 7,200 left the country after being warned that they faced detention and removal if they stayed. Many have protested their innocence; 12,500 appeals have been heard in UK courts, and so far 3,600 people have won their appeals.

Happy statistics day

It’s GCSE results day and, despite the new grading system, the news people are bringing out updated versions of their usual it’s-getting-better-it’s-getting-worse stories.

GCSE results day 2018: New ‘tougher’ exams favour boys as gender gap narrowest in seven years
Girls remain in the lead, with 23.4 per cent achieving one of the highest grades, which is the same as last year, compared to 17.1 per cent of boys, up from 16.2 per cent last year. But the gap in top grades between boy and girls is now at its narrowest since 2010, with boys just 6.3 per cent behind girls, down from 7.2 per cent last year.

GCSE results rise despite tougher exams
A total of 20 of the most popular GCSE subjects in England have been graded for the first time in the numerical format – plus English and maths, which were introduced in the new format last year. These include history, geography, sciences and modern languages, all of which have been designed to be more difficult.

Of those achieving all grade 9s – and taking at least seven of the new GCSEs – almost two-thirds were girls.

GCSEs: boys close gap on girls after exams overhaul
Boys appear to have been the major beneficiary of the overhaul of GCSE examinations taken in England for the first time this summer, as results showed across-the-board improvements in boys gaining top marks while girls saw their share of top grades dip.

Across the UK the proportion of students gaining an A or 7 and above, the new top grade used in England, rose above 20%, with boys in England closing the gap on girls with an almost one percentage point rise to 17.1% with girls unchanged at 23.4%.

In the reformed GCSEs in England, 4.3% of the results were the new highest 9 grade, set at a higher mark than the previous A* grade. The figures on Thursday showed 732 students attained seven or more grade 9s.

Despite the improvements by boys in England they were still outperformed by girls at the highest level: 5% of entries by girls received 9s, compared with just 3.6% of boys.

GCSE pass rate goes UP – but fewer students get new top ‘9’ grade compared to old A* mark
The overall pass rate – the percentage of students getting a 4 or above or a C or above – was 66.9 per cent, compared with 66.4 per cent last year.

But just 4.3 per cent of exams were given the new 9 grade, which was brought in to reward the absolute highest achievers. Just 732 students in England got a clean sweep of seven or more grade 9s.

Previously around seven per cent of exams scored the top A* grade.

The more detail-oriented education sector websites are worth a read, if you really want to dig down into all this.

GCSE results 2018: How many grade 9s were awarded in the newly reformed subjects?
There has been a curious amount of interest in how many students might achieve straight 9s in all subjects. It seems to have started with a throwaway remark on twitter by the then-chief scientific adviser at the Department for Education that only two students would do so. Tom Benton from Cambridge Assessment then produced some excellent research showing that it would, in fact, be several hundred.

Today Ofqual has answered the question once and for all. A total of 732 students who took at least seven reformed GCSEs achieved grade 9 in all of them. Given that fewer grade 9s are awarded than grade A*, it should come as no surprise that fewer students will achieve straight grade 9s compared to straight grade A*s.

But it can get a little heavy-going at times.

GCSE results day 2018: The main trends in entries and grades
Across all subjects, 21.5% of entries were awarded a grade 7/A or above, compared to 21.1% last year. At grade 4/C or above, 69.3% of entries achieved the standard this year, compared to 68.9% last year. Both figures have been on something of a downward trend since 2015, so this year’s figures arrest this decline.

GCSE and A-Level results analysis
Explore trends in national entry and attainment data between 2014 and 2018 in:
All subjects
Additional mathematics
Additional science
Art and design subjects
Biology
Business and communication systems
Business studies
Chemistry
Citizenship studies

GCSE 2018 variability charts: Are your results normal?
Each year Ofqual produces boring-sounding variability charts. It sounds dull but they show how many centres, i.e. schools or colleges, dropped or increased their results compared with the previous year. This means that if you dropped, say, 25 per cent in one subject, you can see how many other schools also saw the same dip.

Let’s give the last word to the JCQ and Ofqual, and have done with it: I’m getting a headache.

JCQ Joint Council for Qualifications: Examination results
Each year, JCQCIC collates the collective results for its members from more than 26 million scripts and items of coursework. We only publish collated results from our members though and cannot supply regional, centre or candidate information.

Ofqual Analytics
Ofqual analytics presents a selection of data in an engaging and accessible way by using interactive visualisations. We hope this innovative approach to presenting data will make it easier to understand and explore the data we produce.

Map of GCSE (9 to 1) grade outcomes by county in England
The map shows reformed GCSE full course results (the percentage of students achieving specific grades) in England by subject and county for the summer 2018 examination series as well as the summer 2017 examination series. Data in the map represents the results that were issued on results day for both years (23 August 2018 and 24 August 2017) and do not reflect any changes following post-results services.

happy-statistics-day-2

(All I know is that my boy got his GCSE results today too, and they’re a credit to the amount of time and effort he’s put in over the years.)

Yes, year 11 exams are challenging; that’s the idea

Tom Sherrington on the need for balance and pragmatism when considering school exams.

GCSE Exams: Keeping a proportionate positive perspective.
Despite the fact that we’ve been running Y11 exams in one form or another for decades, there is always a fairly strong undercurrent in the discourse around the annual exam season characterised by a sense of injustice and unreasonableness. […]

This recent article by Simon Jenkins is a classic example of this kind of anti-exam hysteria. It’s so way over the top, it’s hard to take any of the arguments seriously.

Let me restore some balance.

My son’s just about finished his year 11 exams, and I’ve been very proud of his attitude towards them. He’s really taken to heart the maxim, ‘you get out what you put in’.

In my view there is a healthy pressure and work ethic that endpoint assessments generate. As a parent I’ve been quite happy to see my kids work really hard – super hard – for several months, motivated by the desire to succeed; to be ready to do their best. I totally reject the idea that this is intrinsically unfair or unhealthy or that the kind of exam revision required to get top GCSE grades is superficial and temporary. Would our kids know more in five years’ time if they hadn’t sat their exams – no! They’d know much less. They have much greater chance of remembering knowledge having had to revise extensively. This is particularly true, for both of my children and countless students I’ve taught, because the exam revision process had yielded multiple lightbulb moments. The intensity of study suddenly brings things together that were only half understood before.

Stressful, testing times

Haven’t we been here before?

Primary school headteacher quits over government’s curriculum reforms with emotional letter
On the controversial Sats exams, Ms Ahmad told The Independent: “I don’t have an issue at all with assessment but why do we have to put these pressures on children? In Year 6 it is exam conditions. In my opinion it is wrong – these children are 10 or 11.

“I feel that cannot put children’s needs first, and in my opinion that is the most important thing. I would do anything to look after my children but it has become harder and harder to do.” Earlier this month, The Independent revealed that thousands of parents are expected to withdraw their 10- and 11-year-olds from the Sats exams next month over concerns about their wellbeing.

Here’s Michael Rosen’s view on the SATs, from a few years ago now.

Michael Rosen: They say we’ve politicised the children’s stress. No, it’s the stress that’s political.
When you have high stakes*, summative**, norm-referenced*** testing, (e.g. SATs) you have to have enough questions which a given percentage of people will get wrong. That’s because the people who design these tests are told that the results have to come out looking right on a particular kind of graph. This is the so-called ‘normal’ distribution of children or students doing a given exam. If a test is given and ‘too many’ children appear to have done well, then the test will be condemned as being ‘too easy’ and newspaper columnists will say that the country is going to the dogs. So, these kinds of tests must have the ‘right’ proportion of failures. It has to be built-in to the test, and into the lead-up to the tests – in other words into what we call ‘education’ (!).

I guess those issues haven’t gone away. But look the government says it’s all going well, right?

Primary school tests show schools rising to the challenge
The national Key Stage 2 results show that 61% of primary school children in England achieved the expected standard, compared to 53% last year.

So it’s not just the students that cheat

The Guardian reporting on a Sunday Times story.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating to improve exam results
Nearly 2,300 malpractice offences were committed by staff in educational institutions offering OCR exams between 2012 and 2016, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request by the Sunday Times. More than half of the teachers committing malpractice offences were accused of providing “improper assistance” to students taking exams. In comparison, there were 3,603 cases of candidates being caught cheating over the same period.

Read more on The Times website (if you’ve bought a subscription).

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in exams
Teachers cheat in exams nearly as often as pupils but escape with far lighter punishment, according to figures that OCR, one of the country’s leading exam boards, tried to suppress. The scandal has come to light after the information commissioner ordered OCR to answer questions from The Sunday Times.

And here’s The Telegraph, not to be outdone, wanting to remind us of its own investigative journalism.

Thousands of teachers caught cheating in tests as MPs demand transparency from exam boards
The disclosures come after an investigation by this newspaper last year uncovered an exam cheating scandal embroiling senior teachers at some of the country’s leading independent schools. The scandal, which resulted in the Government ordering the exam regulator Ofqual to launch an inquiry, saw teachers at Eton and Winchester College dismissed for leaking details of upcoming test papers to their pupils.

Useful invigilator training materials

​It’s coming up to that time of year again. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

The Exams Office: Invigilation
Exams officers are required to recruit, train and deploy invigilators. An effective team of invigilators can not only ensure that exams run smoothly, but they can also undertake a range of additional tasks which could help ease the burden placed upon exams officers during an exams series. The Exams Office has produced a series of support resources which will help our members develop the best possible team of invigilators in their centre.

“Integrating” and “rationalising”

Pearson, the company behind Edexcel and BTEC, amongst others, are in the news today.

Pearson to cut 4,000 jobs after second profit warning in three months
“Faced with these challenges, we are today announcing decisive plans to further integrate the business and reduce the cost base, rationalise our product development and focus on fewer, bigger opportunities.”

Interesting language there, and a slight clash between it and the headline. Another article runs along similar lines:

Pearson to cut 10% of workforce as it issues profit warning
The company said Thursday it expects to report adjusted operating profit in 2015 of approximately £720 million and adjusted earnings per share of between 69 pence and 70 pence. It previously forecast EPS to come in at the lower end of a range of 70 pence to 75 pence. In October, the company also cut its forecasts.

Re-mark remarks

More than 90,000 exam grades changed
“As data published today by Ofqual shows, each year over 8 million GCSE and A level grades are awarded to a high level of accuracy. Although the number of enquiries about results increased in 2015, the proportion of all grades changed was 1.1%,” said the JCQ’s director general Michael Turner.

It may well be only 1%, but a considerable amount of time and expense goes into re-marks. Another consequence of league tables?

Daily Mail calmly assesses the state of higher education for us

Paul Greatrix finds a great piece from the Daily Mail about the current state of higher education.

Firsts and fees, plagiarism and pay hikes (and the rest)
Daily Mail online has a terrific piece which manages to conflate a host of different higher education issues within a single kick ass column. On the back of recent HESA data which shows an increase in the number of students achieving first and upper second class degrees the article moves on to plagiarism, league table corruption, commercialisation (not clear if good or bad), the optionality of HEAR (bad?), an ‘expert’ view of classifications, coercion of external examiners, VC pay increases and fee rises in the context of declining HE funding. Unbelievable? … A veritable smorgasbord of entertaining higher education observations. All in one short piece. Truly the Mail is spoiling us.

Read the rest of his post or go to the Daily Mail article itself, ‘Dumbed-down’ degrees: University standards under fire as 50% more students awarded a first.

Viewing the html source for this page reveals its more hysterical, original title, which I prefer I think:

So we’re not dumbing down? Number of students graduating with first class degrees soars by 45% in just FIVE YEARS | Mail Online

OMG!

Worrying statistics?

Worrying statistics

Documenting the curious increase in claimed family deaths — especially of grandmothers — during tests season at college
This gem is from “The Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome and the Potential Downfall Of American Society” by Mike Adams (The Connecticut Review, 1990). Adams’ hilarious explanation for this phenomenon:

“Only one conclusion can be drawn from these data. Family members literally worry themselves to death over the outcome of their relatives’ performance on each exam. Naturally, the worse the student’s record is, and the more important the exam, the more the family worries; and it is the ensuing tension that presumably causes premature death.”
www.easternct.edu/~adams/Resources/Grannies.pdf