Scrap GCSE grades and use scores, says Cambridge

09 May 2013

Two research reports adding to the debate over GCSE exam structure have been published by Cambridge Assessment today.

The first suggests that reformed GCSEs should report results on a numerical scale score instead of using the existing grade scale.

“Grades are arbitrary categories imposed on an underlying continuum of achievement. Reporting scale scores would more faithfully capture this idea of a continuum” said Tim Oates, Director of Assessment Research and Development.

“New GCSEs must not be confused with existing GCSEs – we need to make a clean break with the past. Scale scores might encourage the use of different accountability measures, which could reduce some of the undesirable effects in schools of extra effort being concentrated on pupils around the grade C boundary. This would lead to better teaching and learning.”

According to Cambridge Assessment’s research the main advantages of scale scores are:

  • A fairer system – it would avoid the situation where two people can have different scores but the same overall grade (see graph).
  • Future proof – no need to add extra grades (A*, A** etc.).

A separate paper on tiering states “In Mathematics and English, where there is a particularly strong impetus towards effecting a genuine increase in standards of attainment, we feel that the development of a Level 1/Level 2 model, similar to that used in Singapore, has considerable merit.”

The Secretary of State for Education has indicated that tiering has problems that he would like to see dealt with.

Tim Oates said: “The current GCSE is both a Level 1 and Level 2 qualification and as such presents major challenges to delivering on both. Far better to have a Level 1 qualification with real worth to which students can aspire, and then build upon, than the current situation of receiving what is perceived to be a fail the first time the student attempts it.

“It also serves as a stepping stone to the next level. The Level 2 would provide a clear route for a much larger group than currently attains A*-C – essentially the more challenging exam that the Secretary of State is looking for.”

According to the research the advantages of the Level 1 and Level 2 model are:

  • Each qualification can be finely tuned to address the needs of particular students 
  • Students would take the qualification most suited to their attainment at age 16
  • There would be no ‘cap on aspiration’ – if pupils only achieve Level 1 by the age of 16, they would be expected to work to attain Level 2 following this.
  • The achievement of Level 1 would act as an important motivator for students to move on to higher levels of qualification.

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