Appeals are key to ensuring no student is disadvantaged by statistical moderation

13 Aug 2020, 12:28

This year’s A level results are of equal value to results gained in any other year but we must learn from the turmoil students have faced, writes Sarah Hannafin

In an unprecedented year, the revised system for awarding grades for A levels seems to have held up to the intense stress placed upon it.

However, we should not lose sight of the individual cases where results are going to make a material difference to the next steps a student chooses to make.

The A level grades students received today are their calculated grades – awarded by exam boards after applying Ofqual’s standardisation process to the centre assessed grades (CAGs) and rank orders submitted to them by schools and colleges. Ofqual data shows that 96.4 per cent of these are the same or within one grade of the submitted CAG.

As teachers, we know that some of our students are ‘borderline’ – working around a grade boundary – and it can be difficult to predict what grade those students would end up with. Most of us, when asked to predict what grade those students would achieve, would opt for the higher of the two grades.

But those candidates would be at the bottom end of the rank order for that grade, making it more likely that their final result would be lower once the statistical model was applied, and we would accept that some of those students at the very top or bottom of the rank order might receive a result a grade higher or lower than the one submitted by the centre.

We would like to see employers, universities and other places of work and study playing their part in supporting this year’s alternative arrangements, so that students can move forward with confidence, knowing that their hard work will be valued in the same way as in previous and future years.

How can teachers explain why a grade has dropped from a B to a D?

Early indications seem to show that universities are heeding this call, with the Russell Group saying today that students who miss their grades should not panic and should still contact their first-choice university. They say that they “intend to adopt a flexible approach to admissions, within the limits of the student number controls set by Government”.

Preliminary UCAS data shows that 316,730 UK applicants have been accepted for their first choice of course – up 2.7 per cent against the same point in 2019. However, NAHT is particularly concerned about those results that have been lowered by two grades of more and question how a change this significant could be fair to those students.

Ofqual data released today shows that 3.3 per cent of grades awarded (23,694 individual grades) were two grades lower than the CAG, and 0.2 per cent (or 1,436 individual grades) were three grades lower than the CAG. Although a small proportion, we cannot underestimate the impact these changes might have on individual students.

How can school leaders and teachers possibly explain to those students why their grade has dropped from a B to a D or an E? This is likely the result of the statistical model and its reliance on historical data; not all students in a cohort fit the pattern of their school or college’s previous results. So how can this apparent unfairness be rectified?

In the absence of exams there are no reviews of marking this year, but there is a modified system of appeals. Schools should appeal if they think there has been an error with the data it submitted or that the exam board has made a mistake when calculating, assigning or communicating a grade. More importantly schools can appeal if they can evidence grades are lower than expected because their historical results are not sufficiently representative of their students this year. There is also the possibility of the new appeal route for a student to be awarded their mock grade where this is higher than their final result.

These appeal routes are the key process by which any disadvantage the statistical model has caused can be quickly rectified. Schools and colleges must utilise them to seek redress where they believe they apply, because the most important outcome for 2020 is that students get the results they deserve.

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