The risk measured only by default

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
DISCUSSING the latest report on the Scottish Qualifications Authority, you state that "The error for exam rate entries in west of Scotland secondaries is only 3 per cent". "Only" is an interesting choice of word when you consider that the error rate for last summer's exams was less than this - 2.7 per cent to be exact.

Many within the SQA want similarly to describe that as "only", but it didn't feel like "only" to those on the outside who experienced the full impact of the resulting chaos.

Another interesting word now being used by the SQA is"risk" as in "risk assessment". It's a Teflon word, used to deflect challenge. Chuck in a few figures and any comment or action can be slid through without question. Regard the following: The SQA have rejected proposals to change to a "default pass" system the way unit assessments are collected . Under this system, all unit records would be set at "pass" and then corrected to take account of unit fails.

Billy MacIntyre, the director of awards, points out that the unit failure rate is 28 per cent and states:"The risk is therefore 28 per cent. That's the bit of our result base that could be wrong."

Well, he's mentioned "risk" and given figures, so he must be right. But hang on, what is the current position? At present there is a "default fail" system, as was evidenced last year when students were deemed to have "failed" units when, in fact, there was no data either way.

According to Mr MacIntyre, the unit pass rate is 72 per cent so, under the current "default fail" system, 72 per cent of the records have to be amended to give a correct picture. Let's rewrite his risk statement for the current "default fail" mechanism: "The risk is therefore 72 percent. That's the bit of our result base that could be wrong".

So which option offers the bigger risk - "default pass" with a 28 per cent risk or "default fail" with a 72 per cent risk? My apologies to all those who are number blind for setting this numerical challenge. Answers on a postcard, please, to Billy MacIntyre at the SQA.

Judith Gillespie, Scottish Parent Teacher Council Edinburgh

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