Grade assessments aim to avert last year’s problems

When school exams were cancelled last year due to coronavirus lockdown, within the space of less than one term, exam boards had to come up with an alternative system for awarding qualifications that would determine university and job applications. Instead of using exam results, they asked teachers to refer to previous performance in the classroom, internal exams, and coursework, and provide a grade based on what the school thought a pupil would have achieved on exams. The Centre Assessed Grades were submitted by the schools. The exam boards then calculated the grade boundaries and the actual grade for each pupil.

The system was criticized for the confusion caused by determining marks last year, with important dates left unconfirmed until the last moment. The grading systems were altered to compensate for the absence of exams, and finally an algorithm was applied by the exam boards that used the school’s previous performance to weigh the marks of individual pupils. Many pupils were awarded far lower grades than they had been predicted by their schools. The outcry forced the government to reverse the marks adjusted by the algorithm.

This year’s examinations have once again been cancelled in 2021, but the assessments have become the responsibility of teachers, and pupils will be awarded Teacher Assessed Grades. The main difference between last year and this year is that instead of making an assessment based on predicting what pupils might have achieved in exams, teachers this year are making assessments on demonstrated achievement.

Each teacher will submit several grades the student has achieved throughout their GCSE course, either from practice examinations or coursework, which will then be examined by a teacher, who produces the final assessed grade for the student based on that ‘basket’ or ‘portfolio’ of work. More recent work will be given a bigger weighting on the final grade of the student, and timed examinations that are done in test conditions will also be given a bigger weighting.

The maximum mark of the student can only be as high as the student’s maximum mark in the basket of evidence, and the opposite is true as well. The past performance of the school will not be factored in when the decision is made.

The Head of Oundle School, Sarah Kerr-Dineen said the teacher assessed grades will be “a holistic judgement of demonstrated achievement”.
To moderate results, exam boards will randomly request schools to submit students’ baskets of evidence to ensure the school is adhering to the guidelines.

Learning from last year’s mistakes, this year’s examination system is drastically different to the catastrophic algorithm-based system of last year, with a heavier emphasis on producing a grade on demonstrated performance instead of expected performance. This should hopefully make for a less controversial and more satisfactory result.

This year, final A level grades will be released by exam boards on 10 August and GCSE pupils will receive theirs two days later on 12 August.

Paxton Leung
May 2021