Exclusive: How Ofqual’s grading system can produce inaccurate results

Exam board research reveals system cannot always cope with the extremes of today’s volatile entry patterns

Ofqual’s GCSE and A-level grade-inflation clampdown produces inaccurate results when faced with the extremes of today’s volatile entry patterns, exam-board research reveals.

Recent years have seen dramatic switches between qualifications, and targeting of particular pupils, by large numbers of schools seeking to maximise their grades and meet official targets. Now, two exam-board reports, seen by TES, have led to serious concerns about whether Ofqual’s statistical approach to grading – known as comparable outcomes – can cope with these sudden changes.

One of the reports, compiled by Cambridge Assessment, was commissioned by Ofqual. It finds that the watchdog’s approach to predicting where grades should be set underestimates “the true extent” of differences in cohorts taking qualifications from different boards.

The research finds that exams with “generally high-attaining candidates end up with predicted outcomes that are too low while those with generally low attaining candidates will end up with predicted outcomes that are too high”.

The findings suggest that, as more schools change exam-entry patterns to give themselves the best chance of meeting ever-tougher accountability measures, it will become increasingly difficult for comparable outcomes to produce accurate and fair exam grades.

One exams industry insider told TES that Ofqual’s approach “makes assumptions about things being the same from year to year, and in a system which is constantly reconfiguring itself, it’s just not true”.

Ofqual says that, overall, comparable outcomes can cope with changing cohorts. But the watchdog accepts that the system allowed grades for an English language IGCSE to be too “lenient” in 2014.

Cath Jadhav, Ofqual’s associate director for standards and comparability, said: “All exam boards are aware of the many technical issues they face in awarding and look to manage them appropriately. We monitor this aspect of their work very closely.”

This is an edited article from the 3 June edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week’s TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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