Parents, Students and Teachers Give Britain a Failing Grade Over Exam Results

Hundreds of thousands of teenagers in England tore open envelopes this week bearing the results of their A-levels, comprehensive exams that are supposed to assess the quality of their secondary education and serve as a barometer for college entrance.

But many were in for disappointment, when the grades handed out in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were lower than they had expected, based on their past grades and performance on previous “mock” exams. That was the result of a system designed as a stand-in for exams that had to be canceled this spring amid the coronavirus pandemic, one that has been sharply criticized as unfair to students from disadvantaged areas.

Samantha Smith, 18, from Telford in England’s struggling West Midlands, said she had long harbored concerns the system would affect disadvantaged students more. Her fears were confirmed, she said, when she received scores far lower than she had expected.

“It was unfathomable,” she said. “It felt like a reminder of my place, and it felt as though it was a way of the exam board saying your post code is more important than your potential.”

But in the absence of testing because of the coronavirus, the government introduced a complicated system to provide a grade for those students. First, teachers gave an estimate of how their students would have performed had they taken the tests. Those grades were then moderated by Ofqual, England’s watchdog for exams and assessments, which adjusted the grades through a computer algorithm.

But that calculation heavily weighted the historic performance of individual schools. That had the effect of raising scores for students from private schools and those in wealthy areas and depressing scores for students from less advantaged areas.

Ms. Smith, a first-generation Briton of Afro-Hispanic descent who was homeless for two years beginning at age 16, had looked forward to taking her exams this year to qualify for a law program. Despite the homelessness, and working three jobs while finishing her schooling, she had secured a place preliminarily in the law programs at two universities, based on her results in practice exams.

“Your personal circumstances, your efforts overcoming adversity, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “Because a person like you, a person from your background, from your socio-economic class, you aren’t expected to do well. That’s the same brush they paint you with.”

On average, student results have risen in England, with slightly more of the highest grades handed out than in previous years. But around 40 percent of students in England received a grade one step lower than their teachers predicted, according to the BBC, citing Ofqual figures, and 3 percent of students were shifted down by at least two grades.

In the face of a furious backlash, the Department of Education said students could appeal their grades, sit for exams in the fall or use the results of practice exams if those scores were higher.

At Leyston Sixth Form College, a school for 16 to 19 year olds in East London, about 47 percent of the students received grades lower than those estimated by their teachers, the principal, Gill Burbridge. said. That discrepancy was significantly higher than the national average.

She had expected to take her exam this summer, after already postponing exams for a year as she recovered from a broken back from a skiing accident. She expected to achieve marks that would allow her to enroll in a competitive medicine program, but instead of the three A’s she expected she got three C’s.

“I felt devastated — I felt like my whole future had just been torn away,” she said.

While she has received an offer of a placement at another university, Ms. Turnbull said the grades could damage her career prospects.

“It’s determining the future of what you are going to go do for the rest of your life,” she said. “So it’s not something to be taken lightly.”

Sahred From Source link World News

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