Pupils will be not be assessed in traditional exams for the second year running, as Scotland’s education system continues to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic.
After a system of grade adjustment proved unpopular last year, then-education John Swinney announced in December that this year’s grades would be based on teacher estimates and no algorithm would be used to adjust them.
In a statement made on 2 June, current education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville reiterated that claim, assuring parliament that this year’s grades would not be adjusted to take account of historical attainment.
“Those grades will be based not on historical data or on use of an algorithm but on what each individual learner has demonstrated that they know, understand and can do, through the work on which they have been assessed in school or college,” she said.
Ferret Face Service looked at the claim and found it Half True.
The Scottish Government announced in October 2020 that this year’s National 5 exams were to be cancelled.
In December it confirmed there would be no Higher or Advanced Higher exams either.
Last year the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) came up with an alternative system to calculate results. That was based on teacher estimates, which were modified to take account of schools’ prior attainment levels.
That system led to some pupils having their estimated grades adjusted downwards. Pupils attending schools in the most deprived parts of the country were disproportionately affected. Then education secretary John Swinney apologised to the 75,000 pupils affected and withdrew the downgraded results.
In October, SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson announced that National 5 exams would be assessed using an alternative certification approach.
Under the model, which was published in February, teachers assign provisional grades to pupils. The SQA stipulated that, as the provisional grades must be based on “demonstrated attainment,” pupils must be assessed in each subject. Its guidance said that “evidence should be gathered under controlled conditions to ensure a degree of equity”.
These assessments were labelled “pseudo-exams” by Edinburgh University professor of education policy, Lindsay Paterson. They were also heavily criticised by independent parents group Connect in an open letter to the Scottish Government and the SQA.
As part of the alternative certification model, the grades teachers assign based on these assessments are then subject to what a Scottish Government spokeswoman termed “local quality assurance procedures”. These are carried out by schools and colleges and, according to the SQA, will be “in line with local authority quality assurance processes”.
A paper published this month by Education Scotland – a Scottish Government executive agency – noted that as part of these quality assurance processes local authorities have “developed bespoke data analysis tools to support school level quality assurance”.
These tools allow school staff to analyse provisional grades “against three-year or five-year trends from historical data”. Staff are also expected to use “young people’s prior attainment” to “identify and address any unexpected provisional grades” thrown up in test results.
As part of the quality assurance the SQA also looks at and provides feedback on sample assessments from across the country. It said this is to ensure the provisional results awarded are “consistent, equitable and fair”.
Once the quality assurance stage of the process is complete, provisional grades are submitted to the SQA.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said that “once the provisional grades have been submitted to the SQA, they will not be changed because of any school’s past performance”. Pupils will, however, have the right to appeal the grades they are awarded.
In her statement to parliament, Somerville said the entire model was based on “teachers’ and lecturers’ professional judgments”. “Those judgments alone, based on learners’ work, will this year determine the grades that young people receive,” she said.
The education secretary told the BBC on 9 June 2021 that she could “absolutely” give a “cast-iron guarantee” that the situation faced by pupils last year would not be repeated. “The assessment process is judged by your teacher and they will submit the grade. No-one is coming in to overrule that or second guess it,” she said.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True
It is correct to say that no award will be adjusted by the SQA to take account of historical data. The grades submitted by schools to the SQA are based on assessments carried out earlier this year. In assessing those grades individual schools can take account of their own historical trends as well as individual pupils’ prior attainment. Therefore, it is not accurate to say historical data will not be used in arriving at grades. But once those grades have been submitted to the SQA they will not be overruled.
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