Step 4: Ranking Students Fairly And Objectively

Author: Barnaby Grimble

Category 2020 Exam Grades

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).

For example:

    1. John Smith              Grade 5 Rank 1
    2. Alison Adams          Grade 5 Rank 2
    3. Claire Taylor            Grade 5 Rank 3
    4. David Roberts         Grade 5 Rank 4    (would potentially be moderated down as lowest ranking grade 5)

The submitted ranking will only be used to move students up or down a grade if the exam-board’s standardisation process suggests the grades submitted are not matching an expected distribution based on prior attainment. If you have taken care in the grading and validation process, then the grade ranking  is less likely to be used.

There are certain situations where the ranking will prove to be more challenging:

  • GCSE Subjects with tiers (Maths, Science and Modern Foreign Languages)
  • Subject areas with multiple teachers of the exam year groups
  • Instances where there are many students on the same grade and Overall Total Mark
  • Departments with high staff turnover or recent staff changes

The aim by the end of the process is that you are all in broad agreement with the ranked position of each student. The students you are most confident in achieving the grade suggested are the least likely to be adjusted down in the situation where students' grades are adjusted by the exam board.

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Assigning A Starting Rank

Ofqual has given an example in the case of large departments by starting off with a suggested rank by each individual teacher, then integrating the lists to use this as a start point for discussion (Ofqual, 3rd April, p8). If you have followed our methodology to calculate an Overall Total Mark to inform a recommended grade, this step of the ranking  process will be simple as students can be ranked in order of the Overall Total Mark achieved (See “Step 2: Taking the pressure out of recommending student grades”). This is an extremely robust way of starting the process;  your rankings will be more objective as the teachers will have used evidence-based information to inform the marks, grades and now the start rank position.

On Pupil Progress you will be able to produce a download at the click of a button that will contain all the marks, grades and information that you will need for your ranking discussions. It will even provide you with a starting rank for your discussions, based on the Overall Total Mark that has already been validated in Step 3. A collaborative approach to recommending and validating grades.

Using this more objective and performance-based approach to your starting ranks will also help reduce unfairly assigning students a rank that is affected by unconscious bias or based on the advocacy skills of individual teachers in the department. Read our blog on “Well, she deserves a 7”- Reducing unconscious bias" for more on this.

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Handling Large Numbers of Students with the Same Grade

It is worth recognising before you start this process how many students you are likely to have on the same grade. You can easily do this by looking at the number of students that achieved each grade last year as a rough guide of what you should expect this year.

As an example, we can take a fairly standard situation where there is a cohort of 80 GCSE geography students, with a distribution of grades that follows the national average. According to the Ofqual grade distributions from Summer 2019, 35,090 students achieved a grade 5 out of 250,985 candidates, or 13.9% of the national cohort. Translate it to a school setting and this would be 11 of our 80 students that are likely to achieve a grade 5. 

To achieve a grade 5 in Geography AQA in June 2019, a student needed 116 marks overall, and 134 to get a grade 6 - a gap of 18 marks. Therefore it is likely these 11 students on grade 5 will have different Overall Total Marks and so can be ranked easily and reliably. The ranking conversation would be more about validating and ensuring that there has been consistency in Step 3. A collaborative approach to recommending and validating grades.

In many schools, students are unlikely to follow the national distribution and will more commonly cluster around a smaller range of grades. For example, high achieving schools will have a higher proportion of their students clustered around grades 9-7 than the national distribution. These ranking conversations will be more focused on the situations where there are more than one student on the same Overall Total Mark. This means the conversations will be about fewer students and will require input from fewer teachers at a time. This should also reduce friction and reduce the risk of decisions becoming more subjective and introducing more unconscious bias. You can read more on keeping the conversations focused and objective in our article Having Effective Ranking Discussions. 

Working Across Tiers

Confidence in the tiering decisions will really be tested by this process. Ofqual have made it clear that the grade submitted by a centre must match the tier, i.e.:

  • foundation students can have a grade 5-1 submitted
  • higher tier can have grade 9-3 or U submitted. 

For 9-1 Maths, Science and MfL, students on a grade of 5, 4 or 3 (the grade overlap on tier) may be on different tiers which may prove slightly more problematic for ranking discussion.

If you have chosen a student to sit higher tier, this should be because they are capable of achieving a grade 6 or above. The exam boards make it very clear that students who are at a risk of achieving a grade 4 should not be entered for Higher tier, therefore they are likely to be students with good evidence of working at grade 5 and above. If they have been entered for the foundation tier, it is because they are unlikely to achieve a high 5. Bearing this in mind it should follow that students on a higher tier should be ranked above foundation tier students.

Based on the logic above, it would be best for the starting ranks to be ordered first by tier (higher above foundation), then Overall Total Marks. In the discussions, you can then work through each student individually. If you are finding that a lot of your foundation students are being ranked higher than the higher tier students then you may need to question the evidence that is being used to support the ranking and why it is so different to the evidence used in the tiering decisions.

Preparing For Ranking Discussions

If there are issues with the grades and Overall Total Marks recommended, then this should be addressed in one-to-one conversations before the ranking meeting. Ensure you and the teachers involved are satisfied that the Grade Judgements and Overall Total Marks are as reliable as possible. You can check if the Overall Total Marks for the students they teach are in the order they would expect using our sorting tool on the tracker during  Step 3. A collaborative approach to recommending and validating grades. If any changes need to be made, do this before the meeting.

Pupil Progress will automatically provide a starting rank for your students using their Overall Total Marks, which you can download onto an excel spreadsheet along with the core data. Students that have the same Overall Total Marks will be highlighted by the sheet. Share the list with your team before the meeting so they can look through it and consider any students they feel should be moved up or down the ranking list.

If you want to read more on having an effective ranking discussion, click the button below to read our article.

Read More: "Having Effective Ranking Discussions"

Evidence & Performance-Based Decisions

In making any changes to the rankings, it is important to keep discussions focused on evidence linked to performance. Use a list from Ofqual that you have edited to match the most reliable evidence you have available in your department.  Share it with the team and draw attention to it at the start of the meeting. If conversations start to move off of these sources of evidence relating to performance (e.g. on to behaviour and concentration levels) , then use it to refocus the discussion.

Download a concise version of the Ofqual list of suitable evidence

At the end of the day, this is about getting fair rankings for the students that are only to be used if the grades are moderated up or down by the exam boards. Not everyone will be happy with the final rankings, but it is important that everybody has been involved and has been heard. It is important to also remember that it is not the responsibility of a single teacher or subject lead, it is a team effort where submissions are made by the centre not just the individual teachers. As Ofqual have said, “For this to be as fair as possible, it is important that the rank order of students is as accurate as possible”; this is for the benefit of all students.

We have written a blog series to support teachers and leaders through the whole process of submitting grades and ranks for students in 2020. To go to the read the overarching article for this, click the link below:

Read Our Complete Guide to Deciding Fair Student Grades in 2020

To support all teachers and leaders with this process, we have opened up the Pupil Progress platform for free use until August 31st. If you want to find out more on this, click the link below:

Click here for more information on using our trackers for free to support  teacher predictions