There will be a lot of challenges when deciding the rank order of students that have been recommended the same grade. Keeping the process as objective as possible, based on evidence of the performer will be essential to ensure fairness for students. In departments where many teachers may be comparing students, it is worth taking a little extra time to plan the session as it will save time and stress throughout the meeting and in the long run.
Ofqual has stated that, once you have decided on the recommended grades for students, centres will need to recommend “the rank order of students within each grade – for example, for all those students with a grade 5 in GCSE maths, or a grade B in A level biology, a rank order, where 1 is the most secure/highest attaining student, and so on”. (Ofqual, 3rd April).
We all know and understand the importance of the task that teachers are now faced with, this is not something that needs to be dwelled on. The announcement to cancel exams, but still award grades was made and the decision has now been finalised. Not only will centres be responsible for submitting grades but also now how this is going to happen. So, in short, this is the time for action and time to be as well informed as possible before starting the process.
The purpose of this blog, and the connected series of blogs, is to open thought processes and mindset so that teachers are as well prepared for the task as possible. The specific focus of this blog is the ways in which we believe that you can reduce the impact of unconscious bias when making your judgments by making a well-informed decision based on evidence and historical data. This will look at not only tackling bias when predicting grades, but also bias when ranking the students before submission.
The validation process is going to be the most important step in recommending student grades for submission by the centre. If you get the grades in line with your centre’s prior attainment and the distribution of KS2 prior attainment, then it is likely that your recommended grades will be accepted.
Ofqual have made it clear that work done after 20th March shouldn't be taken in to consideration when deciding students' recommended grades. Due to the wide variety of circumstances and contexts for different subjects, schools and students, what can be used to inform the grades is broad.
Many teachers will respond to the challenge of suggesting a grade for the centre to submit differently; some will relish the opportunity to prove that teachers know their students, others may feel a lack of confidence, guilt or anxiety around recommending grades for their students. You may be working with NQT’s or people who have never taught an exam class before and therefore may need some reassurance that they are giving accurate grades. Some staff may have had bad experience of being way out on their predictions compared to actual summer results in previous years. You may be working in a context with high turnover of staff and so have only taught the students for a short while or have had a lot of supply teaching. There may be conflict over the process of validating the grades and ranks that teachers and subject leaders suggest.
Ofqual have given more detailed guidance on what centres are going to need to submit for students of GCSE and A-Level courses.
Information about the methodology for awarding grades for students is gradually being released before the official guidance comes out from exam boards. A clearer picture is emerging that the grades will be informed by your current data (see Preparing for Teacher Predictions), and it will involve an element of student ranking within your subject (ASCL, March 31st). The grades submitted will be moderated against prior KS2 data, prior school attainment data and national distributions by the exam boards. If adjustments need to be made to the distribution of grades, then the rankings will provide a fair basis on which students will move up or down a grade.
The process of ranking students brings further challenges, especially to larger departments. This more refined approach could also increase the effect of unconscious bias. So what should be taken into consideration at a subject level to ensure a fair and justifiable approach?
Following the announcement of the cancellation of the summer exam series on 18th March due to COVID-19, the DfE and Awarding bodies have started to reveal the overarching approach to awarding grades on 20th March - see DfE Press release, March 20th. This has provided a few certainties for all people involved in education to start thinking about how this might affect them and the actions they can take.
Pupil Progress is a company that works across all exam boards and qualification types and provides support to schools at subject and whole school level to ensure accurate grade predictions. We feel we are in a really good position to provide support to schools.
The outline of the grade awarding process for 2020 released 20th March by the DfE has revealed some information about the external validation process. The significant role of teacher predictions will bring tough emotional and logistical challenges as well as the potential for friction between teachers, subject leaders and senior leaders.
A very important part of the submission of teacher predicted grades will be internal verification and standardisation. No-one will want to submit grades that are at risk of being pulled down because of inconsistency, or because of unrealistic or unjustifiable grade predictions.
Once centres have internally verified and submitted the subject grade predictions for their students to the exam board there will be a process to calculate the final grades awarded to students. Using the limited detail about this process so far and despite the unprecedented situation, we do have examples of current practice by JCQ, Ofqual and the exam boards and enough information that points us in a likely direction. This can be used to help us to prepare rigorous internal verification processes.