Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Reader’s Comment of the Day: Toughening exams does not raise or lower standards


In response to Mark Ellse: Gormless Gove flunks logic test. You can’t make exams harder and expect more kids to pass, steve wren wrote:

I think we need to be clear here that the exams regulator OFQUAL have a policy called “comparable outcomes” that determines the grades that are awarded. Basically, it means that no matter how hard or easy the exam is the same percentage will pass.

The number of students passing exams this summer has already been set – even though the exams have not been taken yet! This number of students passing is based on looking at the primary school results for when this cohort were back in Year 6.

If they have to lower the ‘pass mark’ to 15 per cent to ensure that the right number of students pass then that is what will happen; similarly if they have to increase the ‘pass mark’ to 85 per cent to ensure the right number of students will pass. Around 10 years ago, one of the exam boards set a maths paper that turned out to be harder than they expected – they had to lower the pass mark to 23 per cent to ensure that the right number of students passed!

Toughening up (or making easier) exams does nothing for increasing, nor decreasing, standards in the country. It just makes good (or bad) headlines.

[Technical note: exam boards can appeal to allow more/fewer students to pass in any given year if they think that the work students have produced merits it but this very rarely applies to big subjects like maths and English and only really is used for subjects with small numbers of entries nationally]

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