‘More transparency needed’ over Covid-19 exam changes

Holyrood's education committee has raised concerns over the new grading system to replace cancelled exams.

More transparency is needed over changes made to the examination process in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Holyrood’s education committee has said.

In a letter to Fiona Robertson, the chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the committee raised problems with the use of a school’s past performance to inform the grades of learners this year, which it said could affect those from more deprived backgrounds.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Scottish Government cancelled this year’s exam schedule, with teachers instructed to submit predicted grades and rankings of pupils in the absence of an examination.

Following up on an appearance by Ms Robertson, the committee pushed for more clarity on the moderation of the new system, an equalities impact assessment and the appeals process.

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In the letter, convener Clare Adamson told the chief executive that the confidence of the public in the temporary replacement system is based on transparency.

She said: “Only by being able to understand the detail of the processes to be followed can the public be assured that the system for arriving at grades will be consistent and fair.

“On that basis the detail of processes being followed need to be published in full as quickly as possible.”

The committee also asked for full details on the moderation process, including how much weight would be given to teachers’ predictions, past coursework, mapping of estimates on a curve and the past performance of the school.

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The convener also said there had been “deep unease” among teachers who were part of three focus group sessions held at the end of last month by the committee over the need to rank students.

She wrote: “The concerns include that ranking goes against the principles of the Curriculum for Excellence and that assessing students to within a fraction of a percentage point is, as one teacher in our focus groups put it, ‘conflating precision with accuracy’.

“This is of particular concern in ‘high stakes’ subjects where a large proportion of the final grade is usually exam-based.”

As well as asking for clarification, the convener also laid out the committee’s position on some of the issues around the new system, recommending that an equalities impact assessment is published, which Ms Robertson told the committee during her evidence was being undertaken.

The convener also said the committee recommends the publication of details around the appeals process and the methodology put forward for the moderation of grades, the latter being made public before teachers are expected to submit estimates.