Since the pandemic began back in 2019 the impacts it has had on all aspects of life have been existential. Everyone has had to adapt in various ways to try to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19. However, we seem to be coming to a point in the pandemic where the risk is not as high and so people can return to life how it was previously. We are given an unusual opportunity for reflection on what had to change and the impacts of this, as well as for deciding if some of the changes were for better or worse and whether we should revert to the way things were previously done. Regarding education, there have been significant changes. The absence of exams is probably one of the biggest changes that the education system saw throughout the pandemic, as this method of assessment is the most conventional approach through most students’ education up until university. To replace exams most schools chose to use some sort of predicted grading system, which I will discuss within this blog, and the benefits and limitations of using them.
In terms of exams being cancelled and being replaced with predicted grades, we must first explore how these predicted grades were calculated, although this did differ between schools. According to the government website, the guidance given to schools followed Ofquals judgement that advised schools to make a judgement of the grade they expected the student to get. They were asked to draw off evidence such as school or college records, mock exams and compare them to previous students who they would have expected to get similar grades. As a result of this, some students were negatively impacted and others benefitted.
Studies have shown that predicted grades are often inaccurate and that predicted grades for those from disadvantaged backgrounds are the least likely to have their grades accurately predicted(Murphy & Wyness, 2020). This is especially the case for those from BAME backgrounds as Gill Wyness’ research found that calculated grades would disproportionately impact BAME students since only one in six predicted A-Level results turn out to be correct and BAME students are more likely to have their grades routinely underpredicted. This would therefore have a knock-on effect in terms of the universities they could apply to and impact on their future. BAME students already face many more hurdles than their white counterparts in terms of achieving high grades in education, and the predicted grades used through Covid-19 did not tackle this issue.
As well as this, the use of predicted grades raised the number of high grades that students were receiving. Between 2012 and 2019 around 5,500 students achieved the top A-Level grades, but then in 2021, this quadrupled to around 19,500. This meant the number of people applying for university increased as more students were getting the entry requirements. For courses that are already competitive like medicine and dentistry, this has continued to grow. This also raises the issue of whether it is fair on the other students who completed the exams in previous years and may not have got the grades they thought they would achieve, so as a result missed out on their first choice of university. However, not much can be done about this now but we are at a point where we can reflect on whether predicted grades are something that should be used in the future or if going back to exams is the right decision.
There are obvious disadvantages of exams such as the stress it can bring on students, they are often also not an accurate representation of knowledge and there are lots of studies done showing the downside of exams. Often exams in schools are called a test of memory rather than knowledge, and they are only a microscopic understanding of what the child has learnt.
Considering this I think that returning to full exams this year is not the best option and instead there should be an incorporation of the two. Predicted grades would remove some of the stress that is apparent for students through exams, and they also may be a more accurate representation of the students’ knowledge. Provided that exams would then also be included within their grades, this mixed method of assessment would potentially remove bias from predicted grades and give a more accurate portrayal of students’ abilities.
Burgess, S., & Sievertsen, H. H. (2020). Schools, skills, and learning: The impact of COVID-19 on education. VoxEu. org, 1(2).
Bodero-Jimenez, 2020, The Disproportional Educational Impact of Covid-19 on BAME students, available at: https://epigram.org.uk/2020/09/03/the-disproportionate-impact-of-covid-19-in-bame-students/