This year’s A Level results are a reminder why exams are least bad way to assess pupils

News Letter editorial of Wednesday August 11 2021:

By Editorial
Wednesday, 11th August 2021, 4:12 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th August 2021, 12:53 pm
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The pupils who have just finished their A levels have had one of the most difficult educational experience of any sixth formers in memory.

They in effect lost two years of their schooling: the academic year 2019/20 and this year just past, 2020/21.

Everyone will be wishing them well as they try to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives.

Let us hope that as many of them as possible get on to the courses of their first preference, or their preferred jobs.

It has been an exceptional period and higher educational institutions are making exceptional arrangements to accommodate the circumstances.

Last year an algorithm was used to downgrade some pupils amid fears of grade inflation from teacher-assessed results. That system was scrapped after an outcry.

However, there is no denying that grade inflation has, as feared, become a huge problem.

The number of pupils getting grades A or A* has risen to more than half. Approaching 20% of students got the higher of those grades, an A*.

This is going to pose profound problems.

It means that many more candidates will be eligible for elite courses than would previously have been the case.

It means either that future years will see their grade average plummet from this year, and so unfairly be categorised as having a lesser achievement to this year’s cohort, or else that grades will stay high, which will sustain the new problem of separating the best students from the rest.

There was a very good reason for the highly unusual step of moving to teacher assessment last year and this year — trying to stop the spread of a global pandemic.

But we have been reminded of two key things: first, that disruption to education is an extreme step that should only be taken as a last resort. Second, that exams are the least bad way of assessing pupils.

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