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Test score predictions promotes socioeconomic inequality in students

By Raymond Dai and Janice Lee Oct. 20, 2020

Rachel Kim Art


Crowds of students gathered outside of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office to protest exam results calculated by an algorithm following the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Metro, students were seen holding signs reading “justice for state schools,” and urging the government to “trust teachers” regarding the results of their recent examinations, which have caused discontent throughout the UK.


Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government decided to cancel it’s usual country-wide exams and instead predict students’ scores with a mathematical formula. Every Spring, UK high school students typically take Advanced-Level (A-Level), Advanced Subsidiary Level (AS-Level) and General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) tests, which are standardized tests used in determining college admissions similar to the SAT and ACT in the US. The formula would input a student’s grades from the past school year as well as the school’s historical exam performance. As a result, according to Vox, there were more predicted passing scores this year than awarded in any year with the actual exam.


Despite the increase in the top scores overall, many formula-predicted scores were lower than teachers’ estimates—The Guardian reveals that 39.1 percent of students in England received a grade lower than their teacher-predicted grade, and underfunded schools were disproportionately disadvantaged. This disparity may be due to the fact that high-performing students from schools with poorer academic records would receive calculated grades lower than their actual academic ability, due to their school’s average performance being a factor in the formula and therefore calculation. According to the BBC, this “downgrading” decreased the pass rate for Scotland Higher, a national examination, by 15.2 percent among lower-income students compared to a decrease of only 6.9 percent among higher-income students.

According to the BBC, this “downgrading” decreased the pass rate for Scotland Higher, a national examination, by 15.2 percent among lower-income students compared to a decrease of only 6.9 percent among higher-income students.

This disparity may be due to the fact that high-performing students from schools with poorer academic records would receive calculated grades lower than their actual academic ability, due to their school’s average performance being a factor in the formula and therefore calculation. Additionally, BBC found private schools had higher predicted scores overall, whereas The Evening Standard stated that the five London boroughs with the lowest GCSE results this year also had the highest numbers of children living in impoverished homes.


While it is true that higher income students generally attain higher grades on examinations due to extra resources, the predictive system made it especially clear that students would be unjustly punished for being lower-class. Furthermore, the absence of a common standardized test allows for grade inflation since different schools can have different grading systems, meaning that a student from one school could receive a higher grade than another student, even if they are both equally as talented.

“The issue teachers like myself have is that we still believe that education should be a way out of poverty and to better yourself through hard work. The very people who should be the success stories of the education system have been penalized unfairly. Students should always be recognized and treated as individuals on their own merit,” Robin Wallace, Science Department, said.


Following backlash from students and teachers, Roger Taylor, Chair of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), released a statement addressing concerns over the predictive system. Taylor stated Ofqual would give students the A-level and GCSE scores either predicted by their teachers or the formula, whichever was higher.

Following backlash from students and teachers, Roger Taylor, Chair of the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), released a statement [saying that] Ofqual would give students the A-level and GCSE scores either predicted by their teachers or the formula, whichever was higher.

As COVID-19 is bringing upon a new reality, the system must make adjustments, as in-person exams may be difficult. Although this is not a perfect solution given that teachers can also hold subconscious biases, recognizing faults within the current system is a necessary first step in ensuring long-term positive change.


The focus of the algorithm on school performance did not rightfully acknowledge the potential harm to public school students; in its blog, Ofqual admitted that it failed to achieve its goal of making “fair and objective judgements” of student grades. Educational equity begins with immediate systemic change to combat inequity that divides lower and higher income communities, but the algorithm used by UK schools only widened the gap between social classes.

 

About the Contributors

Raymond Dai

Staff Writer


Raymond Dai is a sophomore at Leland High School and a Staff Writer for the Charger Account. He likes to play video games, play badminton and go out biking in his free time.









Janice Lee

Staff Writer


Janice Lee, a senior, is a Staff Writer new to Journalism. Janice likes scouting in various gacha games, taking naps after-school, and reading visual novels.

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