The Assembly Line of Exams: Have We Lost Our Way with Results-Driven Academics?

Every year, teens aged 16 through 18 within the UK sit for their A Level exams. These exams determine their future. But what happens when a pandemic sweeps the nation and the entire country is put into lockdown? Surely one would assume that means if you cannot sit for exams you cannot be graded. However, the UK government had their own idea of how to tackle this major deficit across the country.

The world came to a halt at the beginning of this year, especially wreaking havoc for teachers, administrators, and students. Due to the fact that students were not in school, they could not take their exams. In England, they left this in the hands of Ofqual, The Office of Qualifications and Examinations. The plan was to have teachers share their estimated grades for each student’s subject and also their perceived ranking of each student. With that information, Ofqual then generated the grades through an algorithm also utilizing student grades over the last three years. BBC mentions that Ofqual argued, “Teachers were likely to be more generous in assigning an estimated mark, and this might lead to grade inflation – a much higher number of pupils getting the top grades.” Therefore, this was a much more accurate method of retrieving student grades. However, when grades were announced this past August, the results were not quite what the majority had expected. 

“My concerns about the future of my education came into full effect that Thursday morning, when I discovered my grades had been lowered – meaning I had not met my offer to study HSPS.” A personal account of how the situation unfolded in the UK this past August was shared by Thea Melton. Melton shared a statistic stating that 40% of these A Level grades across all of England had been lower than the predicted grades shared by teachers. This sparked a massive panic across the entire country. 

Following the announcement of grades, the algorithm came under extreme scrutiny. Melton shares, “The algorithm had amplified the racial and class-based inequalities already rife within the British education system, leaving me with an uncertain path to tread.” This grading system was undeniably produced by biases due to a school’s history of performance. Ofqual’s rebuttal to the situation was that it wanted to remain consistent with national results from previous years. However, they failed to recognize the effects that an underperforming school could have on individual students through their flawed algorithm. On the other hand, students from typically high-performing schools would not have such a negative reaction to this algorithm which benefited their A Level grade greatly.

The domino effect of this announcement was unimaginable: leading to country-wide student-led protests, students demanding teacher-predicted grades instead, college offers turning to rejections, and school administration being bombarded with appeals. Students questioned if they were being judged on their performance or their postcode, which brought to the surface the class and racial bias that was evident in this algorithm. Four long days after the announcement of A Level grades, the government finally rescinded these flawed marks and replaced them with teacher-predicted grades. 

The biggest question at hand now is how, in the 21st Century, a government system can ever so blatantly allow this class and racial bias come to fruition? Was it the government’s intention to keep the subordinate classes repressed? Did the dominant class hegemony “accidentally” show its true colors?  

Written by Alexis Golden

References:

  1. A-levels and GCSEs: How did the exam algorithm work? (2020, August 20). Retrieved October 07, 2020, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53807730
  2. Melton, T. (2020, October 06). Postcode or performance: How the A Level results of 2020 exposed a broken system. Retrieved October 07, 2020, from https://www.varsity.co.uk/opinion/19831
  3. Photo: BBC

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