Northern Ireland news

Exam chiefs reassure pupils ahead of A-level results day

CCEA chief executive Justin Edwards

EXAM chiefs have moved to reassure pupils amid concerns that the way grades are calculated in the absence of papers could penalise some.

The Council for Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has published information on the steps it has taken to produce results in "exceptional circumstances".

Without standardisation of teachers' grades, it is understood there would have been a huge increase in the proportion of A*-As awarded at A-level - at least 10 percentage points.

Summer GCSE, AS-level and A-levels were all cancelled and pupils who had been due to sit exams will instead receive "calculated grades".

Results to be published next week will be based on a combination of information provided by schools and statistical data.

Teachers have already predicted the grades they think pupils would have achieved. Schools have also ranked pupils in each subject.

Widespread downgrading of teachers' grades in Scotland has caused alarm, however.

In Scotland, the pass rate of pupils in the most deprived areas was reduced by 15.2 per cent from teacher estimates after exam board moderation.

In contrast, the pass rate for pupils from the most affluent backgrounds dropped by 6.9 per cent.

The exam board's criteria for moderation included the historic performance of of schools.

CCEA said "fairness, maintaining standards and enabling students to progress to further study or employment" were key drivers in its work to deliver grades for this summer's qualifications.

"The alternative awarding arrangements resulted in a significant contribution from the teaching profession and a different standardisation process by CCEA," said chief executive Justin Edwards.

"The data supplied by the schools and colleges in June was based on a wide range of evidence including coursework, mock exams, homework and other previous student achievements.

"Once submitted to CCEA it then became our job to standardise that data by using a range of additional evidence such as student prior attainment.

"In line with every year, standardisation is an essential part of the qualifications process to ensure that every student is treated fairly and that standards are aligned across schools and colleges. The aim is to reflect performances seen in a normal exam series."

The standardisation process will mean that final grades will at times vary from those predicted by the teacher.

Experts say there can sometimes be a positive and unconscious bias in some teachers' grades because they want pupils to do well.

It is understood there would have been considerable grade inflation had only teachers' predictions been used - a rise of 10 percentage points at the top A*-A grades.

Between 2018 and 2019, the proportion of A*-A awarded increased by 0.5 percentage points to 30.9 per cent.

CCEA developed three statistical models, one for each qualification. Rigorous testing combined with internal and external peer reviews validated each model, the board said.

It is understood the A-level model relied partly on data from AS-levels already taken, as previous research shows there is a strong correlation between AS and A-level performance.

"We are confident that the approach we have taken is the best solution under these exceptional circumstances. Every stage has been checked and rechecked. Expert statisticians and education professionals have advised or reviewed and tested every aspect of the process," Mr Edwards said.

"This summer's grades will have the same value and recognition as those issued previously and in the future thus enabling every student to compete on a level playing field whatever they choose to do next."

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