RSS statement on 2021 A level results

The RSS has issued a statement responding to the A level results announced today (10 August 2021), which show a record number of top grades.

Last year, a grading 'algorithm' that downgraded many teacher assessed grades was eventually abandoned. This year, grades were determined by teacher assessment only.

The RSS statement outlines two priorities for next steps. Firstly it asks for a 'full and transparent account' of the statistical evidence used by exam boards to select which schools would be subject to further investigation. Secondly, it calls for an open discussion, starting now, about whether assessment next year should return to 2019 grade profiles, or whether it should adjust more slowly. 

Speaking on behalf of the Society, Sharon Witherspoon, the current RSS vice president for education and statistical literacy, first of all congratulated everyone who received exam results today, especially those who received grades in Maths, Further Maths and Statistics.

She goes on to explain the RSS position: 'While last year we saw the government abandon their poorly-considered plans to use an algorithm to award individual grades, this year they delegated responsibility to teachers and exam boards but only in late February. Earlier guidance about assessment would have helped ensure more consistency in the evidence available for grading. There would have been more ‘data points’ for each student, and there could have been more consistency between schools.
'We look forward to seeing more details from Ofqual on how statistical evidence was used by exam boards to select which schools would be subject to further investigation – we hope this will be published as a matter of priority.'
Regarding the need for an open discussion about next year’s exams, Sharon says: 'The steps the government has announced to ensure exams take some account of learning loss are welcome. But exams are statistically "norm referenced" - the cut-offs between different grades are partly set by prior decisions about what grading results should look like. Is the plan to revert in one fell swoop to 2019 grade profiles, or to adjust them more slowly? This is an issue at the intersection of statistics and policy, and the public needs to be part of this conversation.'

Read the statement in full.

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