A-levels: a simple solution

9th September 2005 at 01:00
The debate on the viability of A-levels ("Heads say it is too late to save gold standard", TES, August 19) seems to assume that because A-levels don't discriminate at the top end, the answer is simply to scrap them. Such a drastic solution is unnecessary since the real cause of the problem is simply the rules of aggregation.

Since the Curriculum 2000 reforms, the A-level has been made up of two, equally weighted parts: AS and A2. The final A-level grade is calculated by adding the Uniform Mark Scale scores of the easier AS and harder A2 units.

Earlier this summer The TES highlighted the fact that students who had achieved a low A grade at AS-level were re-sitting AS units as extra marks scored here can help towards their final A-level grade.

The solution is simple. Since the A-level is made up of two parts, the final grade should be expressed as such. I would suggest expressing the grade as, say, an A or a B where the lower-case letter represents the AS grade and the uppercase the A2 based on the three A2 units and graded using the same scoring system as for AS (240 UMS for an A, 210 for a B, etc.).

Such a system requires no change for examiners (they already award by unit), no change to specification, schemes of work or textbooks but discrimination is provided for those universities and employers who require it.

A sample of 18 A-grade students in my subject (mathematics) gave 11 aA, 7 aB grades, with one of those only a whisker away from aC, so discrimination is achieved.

The UCAS points system could aggregate the two parts of A- level by grades to provide a single measure if required. Thus an A would score 60+60=120 points and a B would score 60+50=110 points, reflecting the extra discrimination.

GB Attwood 4 The Pastures, Repton, Derbyshire

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