Teacher-assessed grades should be avoided for next year's GCSEs and A levels, the government is being advised, amid concerns that these can be subject to bias.
The warning comes from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank, which has produced a list of recommendations about the format of next summer's exams and how they are graded.
The institute is clear that the "use of teacher-assessed grades should be avoided until there is more evidence about their reliability and impact on different demographics of pupils".
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It says there are questions around "teacher bias" and concerns that teachers are not "immune from societal stereotypes" which could influence their judgements of young people, while some research shows that teachers slightly underestimate the performance of students with special educational needs and disabilities.
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The report sets out recommendations for changes to next year's exams and for alternatives in case exams are cancelled, including the "benchmarking" tests, which Tes revealed were being considered as a plan B on Friday.
The report calls on the government to:
- Consider greater "optionality" in exam papers, so that students have a better chance of answering questions on the content they have covered.
- Ensure that multiple papers covering a single subject are spaced out as much as possible during the exam season so that if a student misses an exam because of the pandemic, they have another one to fall back on.
- Allow some grade inflation, given that the 2021 cohort will have experienced lost learning time and will be competing with the 2020 cohort for jobs and places in further and higher education. Standards should be pinned between grading in 2019 and 2020, the EPI says.
It also recommends:
- A new series of benchmarking tests to provide “contingency grades” if summer exams cannot take place for most students, to take place in the spring term.
- More research on the impact of using teacher-assessed grades on student outcomes, particularly for the most disadvantaged.
Natalie Perera, executive director of the EPI, said: “Given the extent of lost learning time due to the pandemic, the government cannot simply adopt a 'business as usual' approach to exams next summer. Doing so would be unfair to thousands of pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who have seen great disruption to their education through no fault of their own."
David Laws, EPI's executive chairman, said the government "should avoid falling back on predicated grades again, as questions remain over their reliability".
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We agree with the EPI’s recommendations over next summer’s exams, and, indeed, we have ourselves made a number of similar proposals to the government and the exam regulator Ofqual.
“Unfortunately, we can detect no sense of urgency by either the government or the exam regulator to put in place any meaningful measures to make next summer’s exams fairer, or decide a back-up plan if things go wrong.
“So far, they have slightly tweaked the content of the exams and delayed the start date by three weeks to allow for more teaching time, and they continue to talk about a plan B without actually announcing one.
“The continuing lack of a back-up plan is particularly worrying because any form of assessment which would provide a contingency option if students are unable to take exams has to take place in a rapidly diminishing window of time in which this could happen."