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Are you prepared for exam results to fall?

(121 Posts)
noblegiraffe Wed 22-Feb-12 20:56:50

Apologies as I could only find this story on the DM, but Gove was quoted yesterday as saying 'There are going to be some uncomfortable moments in education reform in the years ahead. There will be years, because we are going to make exams tougher, when the number of people passing will fall.'

This reminded me of a thread on the TES forum about the latest EDEXCEL modular science results from November, where heads of science were discussing an alarming dip in results with students sitting the higher tier who got a U as they fell off the bottom and generally poor pass rates. There is a comment on the thread from someone who said they had a meeting with the EDEXCEL chief examiner who said that the A*-C rate for the biology module was 5%. While I can't find another source for that, it would seem crazy if true.

These students sitting the new science syllabus would be presumably one of the first groups of students Gove has in mind when he talks about falling exam results.

So, as parents, are you aware of this? What do you think? About time that higher standards were brought in or unfair on students who will miss out on a Cs that they would have achieved if they were a year older?

If you saw a fall in exam results on the league tables, or if your child came home with a poor result would you blame the exams or the school?

As a teacher I'm quite worried, as we seem to get the blame for everything.

Ouluckyduck Wed 22-Feb-12 21:22:28

I think it is necessary, definitely.

webwiz Wed 22-Feb-12 21:35:41

The TES thread is scary stuff noblegiraffe - I would be horrified if DS had to take a foundation paper to ensure a grade when he is an A*/A student. I'm actually glad that he is in year 10 and will hopefully be able to get through his GCSEs before too many changes are made. Surely just getting rid of modules will affect grades without needing dramatic changes to assessment as well. The only losers in the this are the children caught in the transitional years for this new policy.

The constant changes made to science GCSEs is something that I find particularly annoying and I would rather teachers had confidence in the syllabus that they are teaching which is impossible with the never ending tinkering. I think science is worse than any other subjects.

DS takes his first triple science modules in May with OCR and I think he will be drilled in science within an inch of his life just to make sure there are no problems (helicopter parent with a science background smile)

IUseTooMuchKitchenRoll Wed 22-Feb-12 22:12:07

I find the whole thing quite scary tbh. It seems like they are going to deliberately create a group of people who are all born with ages years of each other, and of a simelar standard academically, yet some will have good grades and some won't. Even though their grades would be the same if they took the same exam. It's going to be very unfair on a few year groups, who will then struggle to get university places and employment through no fault of their own.

Kez100 Wed 22-Feb-12 22:25:19

He's an idiot. He needs to set about making a standard. Falling grades are no good - they just make it unfair for the children born in the wrong year and give further moving goalposts. If he stuck with where we are and made this the new standard, soon everyone would get used to it.

Tinkering just causes wasted time, which is wasted money and the inevitable learning curve any new initiative brings also costs money. I doubt any initiative from the past decade has ever really been understood enough to have become efficient before its been replaced with something new.

We need stability.

thirdhill Wed 22-Feb-12 22:30:32

The TES thread seems to say that the fall will come from not having time to adjust to the new style of exam. Call me old-fashioned but since the problem is not that the material is different or of a higher level, is this only a problem if teaching is done to a syllabus and therefore exam-based, rather than to be able to apply skills and knowledge in any assessment situation? And so, those who are taught properly will be more resilient to this effect? I'm not blaming teachers who have many pressures, but essentially teaching has always been more than teaching to a syllabus/exam.

noblegiraffe Wed 22-Feb-12 23:05:24

While it is idealistic to think that teachers would be allowed to simply teach their subject and not constantly coach with exam preparation in mind in this target-driven league table-obsessed culture, the thing is that if you change from a multiple choice paper to a long answer paper and don't change the grade boundaries, more students will fail regardless of their level of science knowledge and skills of application simply because long answers require a higher level of literacy.

Maths exams have got harder too, Edexcel have definitely been sneaking harder, less structured questions into the old syllabus exams and it will be interesting to see this summer's results given the first round of entry for the new syllabus with added functional maths. I though they might lower the grade boundaries but it seems perhaps they will just go with failing more students.

ClothesOfSand Wed 22-Feb-12 23:19:19

DS is in year 9 so I am somewhat concerned. I don't think it is a bad thing to change exams, and I don't think it will necessarily be a bad thing for DS, as he will be judged mainly against other children in his year group when applying for university. I do think they shouldn't rush changes though, so that any change can be managed sensibly. I'd like more information about when it is happening and what is going to happen.

prh47bridge Wed 22-Feb-12 23:51:56

Falling grades are no good - they just make it unfair for the children born in the wrong year and give further moving goalposts

The problem is that we have had grade inflation for decades. According to Durham University, A-levels have seen candidates on the same level of ability awarded about a tenth of a grade higher every year since 1988. So it is already unfair for the children born in the wrong year. It makes it impossible to distinguish the really outstanding pupils from the rest when so many get an A*. And this grade inflation has allowed successive governments to crow about rising numbers of pupils getting good GCSE/A-level grades while the UK has been falling down the international league tables.

Clearly making exams more rigorous than they have become is likely to result in falling grades. Personally I think that is a good thing if it helps to improve the standard of education our children receive.

Colleger Thu 23-Feb-12 07:40:50

It's a good thing. When I was at school I had to sit the higher tier paper and the general (middle) tier paper just to be on the safe side because if I'd failed the higher I would have got a U.

EdithWeston Thu 23-Feb-12 07:54:18

Maybe the answer is to go back to bell curve marking?

Top X% get an A, next Y% a B etc.

That would be totally proof against grade inflation.

Colleger Thu 23-Feb-12 08:13:17

Good idea Edith.

webwiz Thu 23-Feb-12 08:19:26

So instead of crowing about rising standards Gove can crow about all the extra children failing because he's "fixed" education hmm A stabilisation would be better rather than pulling the rug out from under kids feet.

Foxton Thu 23-Feb-12 08:41:55

I think something has to be done to put an end to the inflation, but I do wonder how the first cohorts affected will feel. It has been quite strange for me to compare what I saw as my rather good O Level results with the all-A-stars standards we've had more recently. If that happened in reverse and I found myself with a few As and some Bs in the next few years, I imagine I'd feel like a failure.

CustardCake Thu 23-Feb-12 08:44:31

Agree Edith - I am sure it used to be like that when we did our exams. They looked at the results overall and decided where to set the grades boundaries so that the top X% got an A, then a B etc.

It is already unfair TBH. People born 10 years apart can easily be competing for the same job yet the difference in how their exams were graded can be huge. People of my age who got all A's and B's (no A* grades then) were considered to be extremely bright and those with mainly B to D grades were totally satisfied with those and could go to college and Uni unhindered.

Fast forward a few years and children are distraught at anything less than an B and of course that feeds into colleges and Unis where higher and higher grades are asked for.
People will adapt and colleges will adapt. A Level requirements for top universities used to be 3A’s (Oxbridge) through to ABB - BCC (Russell Group) through to a CD or a CC for many others. This was because they recognised an A grade was so exceptional that hardly anybody got one and that having a B or a C was very good. As the new grades become more common, what is asked of students will change just as it did then and just as it has since.

Grade inflation helps nobody – just look at the poor kids with 4A’s at A Level who can’t get a choice of Uni places anymore. It has totally devalued what they’ve achieved because some of those children will be super bright types who even 20 years ago would have got 4 A’s at A Level but now they are lumped in with people who would only have got 2 B’s and 2 C’s under the old system. Super high grades aren’t worth having unless they are hard to achieve and relatively rare.

coolascucumber Thu 23-Feb-12 09:24:27

Out of my son's Y10 entry of around 150 students only 8 or 9 got grades A-C in their November Edexcel biology module. The school and students are in shock. These results reflected results around the country with the average awarded grade being a D.

I know students who have come out with Ds rather than As. My son got a B (predicted A*) There are a number of reasons for the poor national results.. Late approval of the specification, questionable marking, inadequate number of examplars provided for teachers to work through. Gove has said he wants to make exams harder to pass and is kicking this year's entrants in the teeth. You won't find much information about this in the press, Guardian and Indy haven't picked up on it yet and TES won't make much of the story because Pearson owns TES and Edexcel. Edexcel will make more money by students being entered for Foundation and Higher tier papers and for remarks and re sits.

Anyone else think this is one more branch of government pushing hard pressed parents into the arms of the private sector?

My son got a B because he is has excellent written communication skills. His friend who got a D is no less scientifically knowledgeable but his written skills are not as good.

wordfactory Thu 23-Feb-12 09:44:14

I don't mind and my DC may very well fall foul of this change.

The thing is they don't need to differentiate themselves from the studenst who have beena and gone, they need to differentiate themselves from their peers. Hopefully tougher GCSEs will help with this. All A*s obtained by taking and resitting modules piecemeal is no benchmark for excellence.

If a student gets a good string of grades I want it to mean somehting.

Kez100 Thu 23-Feb-12 10:13:22

Yes, it is already unfair but by having falling grades it continues to make it unfair as each year passes whereas stability would at least mean everyone could get their head around what an A* means, what a C means etc.

I'm an employer, offering the ability to move onto a very good, fully qualified, career from GCSE level. Currently, I know the sort of grades I need to be looking at for these places (generally B plus an ability to work hard, meet deadlines etc). If this happens, I'm not going to have a clue if I ought to now be looking at C grade candidates as well if they have the other attributes (which are equally as important) would I just be setting them up for a potential fall.

The Unis have their A* A level now and some have other tests - like the medical ones - as far as I am concerned it's as important, if not more, that employers know what is going on, and as far as I am concerned another ten years of change, grade deflation this time, is of no use to me.

noblegiraffe Thu 23-Feb-12 12:53:48

It's going to be demotivating to students, especially those with older siblings who have done well. If Jonny gets 10 As and Jimmy gets 10 Cs, 'the exams were harder' will just sound like a weak excuse for doing worse.

Even if the exams do get harder, a C should be achievable by a reasonable proportion of students. 5% is not a reasonable proportion. I hope Edexcel are busting a gut to fix this and not just sitting rubbing their hands in anticipation of the resit fees they have generated.

Colleger Thu 23-Feb-12 13:12:56

Maybe thy shouldn't give grades but percentages then.

notatigermother Thu 23-Feb-12 13:58:32

noblegiraffe - interesting comment about it being demotivating for younger siblings.

I agree overall it probably would be, but it might be a lifesaver for my academically average second child. Our first born is an academic high flyer and I've secretly been worrying about the impact on ds2 when he compares his future results with the mountain of A*s his elder brother accumulated. So in a way I think it will be helpful for him to be able to say "weeelll, exams are so much more difficult these days".

coolascucumber Thu 23-Feb-12 14:19:13

The danger is notatigermother that your academically average child won't get a passing grade B or C he will get a D, E or less. Only the brightest students got passing grades at my son's school. Read what Gove is saying in the DM - we will have several years of young people leaving school with very few qualifications.

In order for this country to remain economically competitive globally the government needs a group of people in each generation who will work for a very low wage. Rather than invest in education they gamble that they can protect their own interests and keep wages depressed.

These are not well thought out policies, they are back of a fag packet ideas tossed out at some dinner party full of right wing knobs. They've done no research and don't see the generation that will suffer as individuals. Their children are securely esconced in well resourced independent schools.

Your second DS may not be an academic like his older brother so value him for his individual qualities and talents and work on boosting his confidence that way rather than embracing a radical overhaul of GCSEs that will harm the life chances of many thousands of young people.

noblegiraffe Fri 24-Feb-12 08:44:26

Just been watching on BBC breakfast the news from OfQual that new, harder GCSEs for Maths, English Lit, Geography and History will be introduced for first teaching in 2013.

So as a maths teacher, we've had the new harder functional maths GCSE for first teaching in 2010. We'll then have linear, first teaching 2012, then new harder as yet unspecified maths for first teaching 2013. FFS.

Apart from anything else, the textbook publishers must be bloody delighted. But it looks like there'll be a decline in GCSE maths results over the next few years with 2015 being a particularly bad year. New GCSE courses are always harder to teach than established courses; teachers are unfamiliar with the syllabus, the exam, there are no past papers for practice, only crappy specimens. Schemes of work have to be rewritten and this requires a huge amount of extra work on the part of teachers who could be using this time that is wasted by courses changing every couple of years to develop new resources.

Just under 60% of students currently get a C in maths. A lot of sixth forms, and a lot of courses require a C in maths for entry, not to mention jobs. So there'll be a lot more students with doors slammed in their faces.

I'm surprised that more isn't being made of this, but I suppose there won't be a story until the full results come out and furious parents are demanding answers as to why their DC are the ones to suffer.

wordfactory Fri 24-Feb-12 10:20:23

I think noble that the reason why more isn;t being made of it is that people accept that grade inflation has to stop.

And to do that you have to stop somewhere. It will always be toughest on the first wave of students but that will be the same year afyer year.

As I say this will directly affect my DC who will sit their GCSEs in 2015, but what can you do? You have to have a way of making qualifications meaningful again. You current status quo where students can retake modules to oush up their grades etc etc means that no one trusts the current system.

Voidka Fri 24-Feb-12 10:27:08

It would have to be done very carefully and everyone would have to sign up to it.

It would be no good if in 2012 pupil A took an exam and got an A, then in 2013 pupil B took the same exam, got the same mark but only got a B.

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