School exam data used to spot ‘unexpected’ grades

Schools' historical exam data will be used to challenge ‘anomalous’ results this year in 'most' Scottish council areas

Emma Seith

SQA assessment 2021: Schools' past exam data used to spot ‘unexpected’ grades

A report looking at the way national qualifications are to be awarded in Scotland this year says “most” councils will be analysing the grades assigned by teachers against their school’s historical attainment data, in order to “identify and address any unexpected provisional grades”.

Last year there was an outcry when the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) results were published because high-attaining students in schools with comparatively low attainment – often serving disadvantaged areas – had their teacher estimates unfairly downgraded.

A week after the results came out – and following protests from students that they should be judged on their performance, not their postcode – the Scottish government reverted to teacher estimates, except where a candidate’s result had been improved by the quality-assurance process.

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However – while the government promised when this year’s exams were cancelled in December that “no algorithm will be used in this exercise” – a new report out today from Education Scotland into how local authorities are quality-assuring grades this year shows that “most” councils are developing “bespoke data analysis tools” for schools so provisional results can be analysed “against three-year or five-year trends from historical data”.

SQA assessment 2021: Schools' historical exam data used for 'quality assurance'

The report says: “Local authority officers plan to analyse trends to discuss this year's provisional results with headteachers, with a particular focus on verifying the data and identifying and challenging results or attainment patterns which appear anomalous. This includes consideration of historic patterns and trends of attainment when compared to this academic session’s provisional results, at individual, departmental and school level.”

But Jim Thewliss, general secretary of secondary headteachers’ organisation School Leaders Scotland (SLS), said that it was “quite legitimate” to use a school’s prior attainment in relation to the quality-assurance process.

He said that if the three-year trend for a department showed that the majority of results were traditionally grade B and C, but this year “a huge chunk” of students had achieved As, then a conversation with the department head was needed.

Mr Thewliss said: “The principal teacher might be new in post, they might be able to argue they have revitalised the department, and have the evidence to say they have stirred the whole thing up. That is quite a legitimate conversation to have in relation to the quality-assurance process – verifying that attainment is based on robust evidence.”

The Education Scotland report – which is several weeks late and was originally due to be published mid-May – also says that “a few” councils need “to provide clearer guidance and expectations for all staff not to replicate an exam-style diet of assessments”.

The SQA has insisted that there is no requirement to replicate full formal exams this year but that has prompted an angry reaction from teachers, who say the body will only accept evidence gathered under exam conditions.

One teacher writing for Tes Scotland said: “As every teacher – and, let's face it, every student – knows, exams by any other name are still exams: when everything rests on your performance on the day, regardless of your experience of the past year, that’s an exam.”

The report says: “While individual schools value autonomy in setting their own assessment approaches, it is important that local authorities keep school-level assessment approaches under review and take prompt action where assessment practice is not in line with expectations as set out by the [National Qualifications] 2021 Group.”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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