Appeals miss the mark

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Dropping prelims and having a clearer grasp of the system could weed out futile applications

THE MAJORITY of appeals to improve the grades of Scottish exam candidates are doomed, according to the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Figures show that the authority dealt with 24,230 failed appeals from Standard grade to Advanced Higher level in 2006 - working out at 53 per cent of all those made.

Failed appeals for both Advanced Higher and Intermediate 1 were as high as 61 per cent, while Intermediate 2 was at 60 per cent and Higher at 59 per cent. Only in Standard grade were there more successful than unsuccessful appeals, with 46 per cent failing to pass muster.

Rob van Krieken, who works for the SQA's research and information unit, investigated the content of unsuccessful appeals in 2005 and 2006. He concluded that a better understanding by schools and colleges of required standards would ensure appeals were not made unnecessarily, or that those submitted were successful.

Addressing an SQA conference, he conceded that a system of appeals based on prelims had inherent shortcomings and that alternatives might be considered.

Appeals failed for many reasons, he said, including cut-off scores being set too low, questions being too easy or papers not reflecting the content of the course. Schools and colleges sometimes did not know how to gather the right evidence, while some problems were specific to individual subjects.

He said there were SQA guidelines, but perhaps teachers struggled to find time to look at them. He also admitted that it was difficult for teachers to set a prelim that was up to the same level as a proper exam, when much of the course was yet to be covered and pupils might be less developed.

At the SQA conference, teachers took the opportunity to express their unhappiness about the emphasis placed on prelims. One said: "Is it about teaching the course - or teaching the course to have evidence for appeals? Appeals are important, but what's driving what? This evidence will only be needed by a small minority, but every pupil will be subjected to it."

Dr van Krieken said: "Perhaps we should be trying to find other types of evidence that are more natural and don't ask schools to organise special prelims."

At its annual conference, the Educational Institute of Scotland agreed to investigate prelims. Delegates said that the standard varied widely across the country, and that teachers had no way of knowing whether questions they used were in the public domain and therefore invalid in appeals.

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