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Has Results Day 2020 left students with more problems than answers?

(Source: Pixabay, @mel_88)

By Molly Govus

In sixth form and college, Results Day signifies the end of an academic era for students. It is the final ‘test’ that puts your academic worth onto paper, and I use the word ‘worth’ loosely. Walking up the stairs to my sixth form lobby for that all-important white envelope felt like coming to the end of an intense mountain climb, and I knew that once I saw my grades on paper that I had completed it.

The amount of importance I placed onto the grades in that envelope was indescribable; for students, it really can mean all or nothing, whether that be for a place in University or for their own sense of self-worth.

The problem is, at least I knew my secondary school journey was coming to a definitive end. For A-Level students in 2020, this is no longer the case, and my heart aches for them. This year, the Evening Standard reported that two in five (39.1%) A-Level results from students in England have been downgraded after exams were cancelled due to the Coronavirus. In numbers, this means that around 280,000 English teenagers have had their grades lowered from teachers’ estimates after moderation.

This moderation algorithm came into place by exam regulators Ofqual (in England), Qualifications Wales and WJEC, Scottish Qualifications Authority, and CCEA (in Northern Ireland). As Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are devolved nations and Education is a devolved power, the algorithm would have been slightly different to England. However, as a whole, the algorithm worked similarly across each nation of the UK, leaving some students disappointed in their results. 

The Welsh Government, having seen the response from Scotland in prior weeks, decided with its exam regulator Qualifications Wales, that revisions would be made by Welsh exam board WJEC automatically if students’ grades were lower than their AS grade. The algorithm in each nation was generally determined by predicted grades and the ranking of pupils in line with the average results submitted by their school, alongside the location of their schools. 

This is brilliant news for students in areas with good schools; for instance, the numbers show that top grades (A/A*’s) have surged to a record high since the introduction of the A* grade in 2010. Despite record-breaking results for some, this leaves the education sector and exam regulators with the harsh reality that there are students who have been unfairly marked and graded due to this algorithm

Unfortunately, this situation was foreshadowed in Scotland earlier this week, where the Scottish Qualifications Authority downgraded a quarter of pupils (around 125,000) receiving their Highers and Nationals results. This resulted in protests and the justice-serving decision for the Scottish government to re-evaluate grades based on teachers’ estimates. A-levels and the process of results day is harrowing as it is, but to receive an inaccurate result is traumatic on another level. Once you consider the amount of hard work, dedication, and effort that these students have put into their work over two years, it is shocking to know that students have been cheated of the results they deserve.

I believe one of the main downfalls of the algorithm is that it doesn’t take into consideration the vast academic variety of students within a school – there has been too much focus on numbers and previous results, when in reality, most of the students have the ability to bring that average up if they work hard enough, regardless of their school’s location or previous results. Instead, this algorithm has grouped students based on their schools’ result history and adapted the grades accordingly.

This is not an issue to be taken lightly. The fact that unfair grades have been flagged up for the majority of Scottish students shows that this issue is a far cry from students making a big deal over bad grades. In this case, the students are being subjected to an unfair grading system.

Some students have worked tirelessly, and incessantly for two years of their lives; Results Day is what every student works towards before opening a new chapter in their academic lives. The way results have been handled this year ultimately means that some students have not got a place at their first, or even second choice university.  There is no doubt that the Coronavirus has impacted the education sector in regards to the quality of education, and the inability to sit exams. Some may argue that no matter what could have happened on results day this year, some students would be left disappointed.

It is integral that the class of 2020 speak out for the justice they deserve; no student should ever miss out on an academic future, or accept anything less than what they worked for, due to an algorithm using unfair assumptions.

Follow @gairrhydd for all of the latest updates from in and around Cardiff.

Comment Molly Govus

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