Correcting Covid's grading fiasco

Education | Brighten Youth Edu Centre 27 Oct 2020

The canceling of this year's IB and A-Level examinations caused repercussions still affecting students around the world; repercussions that need correcting before next spring.

The International Baccalaureate Organization used artificial intelligence to determine grades for students in their final year of high school.

These results were based on students' past work and other historical factors - factors that have still not been disclosed.

The decision sparked global protests when significant numbers of students received grades bearing no relation to what was expected, often in unpredictable ways.

To date, over 25,000 students (around 15 percent of 2020's IB diploma recipients), have signed a petition objecting to the use of AI when assigning grades.

Disgruntled parents and disappointed students were further stymied by this year's nebulous appeals process.

Under normal circumstances, exam boards have well-defined, multi-level processes involving everything from remarking exams to reassessing coursework.

Such appeals are rare as most years see final grades that are extremely close to predicted grades.

Initially, the organization treated the appeals as a request to re-mark student coursework.

However, it was actually the AI-awarded grades that were in dispute.

AI couldn't re-mark the papers as, with the exams canceled, there were no papers to mark.

Is it fair to criticize exam boards forced to devise rapid solutions in times we are continually reminded are "unprecedented?" Surely the bigger scandal would have been allowing exams to go ahead and undoubtedly raising the ever-climbing Covid-19 body count?

While this is true, exam boards could have offered more clarity on how results were produced, or appealed in anomalous circumstances.

However, for this year's candidates, this has become something of a moot point.

In the UK and elsewhere, most universities decided to honor places offered on predicted grades, and gave students longer to decide whether or not to accept their offers.

All courses except those featuring significant government funding (medicine and dentistry) were affected.

These changes were not made on entirely altruistic grounds.

Many universities had expressed concerns over a bleak financial future if significant numbers of students chose not to accept their places, knowing that much of the teaching for the 2020-21 academic year would be online.

This decision was taken after exam boards chose to accept teacher-assessed grades that exam regulator Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation demanded were adjusted downward by 10 percentage points to keep them in line with previous years.

Thousands of students had their places rescinded, and then reinstated.

Both approaches were a mess, featuring processes that were characterized by opacity, creating results that caused unnecessary stress for students who were - like the rest of us - having a somewhat difficult year.

As the dust settles, looking to the future is the most prudent course of action.

There is no guarantee students will be able to sit in-person exams this spring. Clear contingency plans are required.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us:

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