17 August 2020

Grades debacle

When I was young, everything was simpler! Or maybe I should say: when I was young, I lived in the Netherlands, and some things are (or at least were) simpler there. In my time, only medical degrees had a student cap. And for all the other degrees you might want to study, you only needed to have the A levels required. I don't even know if all degrees demanded any specific ones. I think that for studying physics, you needed physics and mathematics. Mind you; my school wouldn't let you do physics without mathematics, as the latter is the language in which to express the former, and that might have been a national rule. So just pass these A levels and you can just pick a university to go to. They would take you! Doesn't matter if you scraped through, or got the best grade in the country. Mind you; I found out myself how unwise it is to go and study a topic that you already had to work hard for in secondary school. Bad idea! If that takes an effort, university will kill you. Or at least, kill your ambitions in that direction. But with these A levels you get into geology too. I didn't do anything like geology or geography in my A levels but that was OK. You couldn't do geology in my school anyway. And geography was focussed on human geography, so no use for Earth Sciences. Anyway, the rest is history! 

Here all is different. The various universities have various entry requirements. A certain grade will get you into one university but not another. So your grades matter! It's not a matter of 'pass or fail' like it was in my time. So no A level being sat was a big deal. How to determine someone's grades? Because, as I said, they matter! So the government coming up with some algorithm that would adjust the grade estimates of the teachers, generally down, and sometimes by a lot, caused uproar. The Scottish governments swiftly did a U-turn. The universities had already been informed of the grades. In England, there seems to be some juddering behemoth of an appeal procedure in place. We will see. 

I'm not impressed. The A level exams were cancelled in March! It should be possible to have thought of a good way to come up with grades a bit earlier. Not afterwards. Or in the very week of release. And it is typical the results, over several years, of the entire schools are used to recalculate the grades. So if you're in a school that doesn't do so well, you may be the most brilliant student ever, but you won't get good grades! And if your school has massively improved recently, that effect is largely undone by taking the pre-improvement results into consideration. There is no shortage of people pointing out that this is a system that advantages advantaged people. If your school does well, you can be a weak student but still get a good grade on the coat-tails of your more academic peers! Oh well. When they made Gavin Williamson education secretary I stopped having high expectations. Well actually I did when Johnson became PM. Either way! And there is no shortage of people pointing out that a process like this, that would elevate untalented but privileged people, would be exactly what would get men like that into jobs like that...

PS That post didn't age well! The day I published it, the English government made a U-turn. Not very unexpected as they do it all the time, and rather late for the students. But better late than never... 

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