Gove to abolish ABC


As regular readers will have doubtless noticed, All Change Please! has a penchant for punning headlines, and was therefore greatly amused by The Independent’s recent front page story: ‘Gove to abolish ABC‘ Not of course that Herr Gove means the actual letters of the alphabet, although there’s no knowing if that’s just something a bit further down on his list. It’s to do with the current method of identifying levels of performance at GCSE grades, and, as we all know, that’s the main thing that’s not been driving the recent truly alarming fall in educational standards that isn’t actually happening in our schools.

So what better way to enure everyone gets to go to Oxbridge than to go back to the way things were and award numerical levels instead of these new-fangled marxist-inspired easy-peasy, softy-style letter grades? But why stop at, say, 10 numbers? 100 might be interesting. A candidate who scores 100% would be awarded a 1, a score of 99% gets a 2, and so on until a 1% mark receives 99.  Sounds daft, so expect it to be announced shortly…. oh – seems they already have… a recent suggestion in the Daily Mail was for student’s actual marks to be included, so on their CVs it would appear as 1/350 UMS. Ummm. What’s UMS then, you quietly ask yourself? You were never any good at doing UMS in school and you don’t know what it means? Well, thanks to Google, it seems it stands for Uniform Mark Scale. Ah – something to do with how well dressed you are then? And only getting 1 mark out of 350 doesn’t sound very promising does it?

Meanwhile our ever present roving reporter Tony Wheeler writes:

When will someone in the media rise above all this nonsense and tell the real story. It’s not about the bloomin’ numbers or letters, or even what they stand for, it’s about the difference between awarding to performance criteria (If you can do it you get the grade. If everyone can do it they all get top grades – hooray well done everyone),  or to norm referencing where there are only 10 top grades so we are going to have to ration them (irrespective of how good you all are). So-called grade inflation has happened because we moved from norm referencing to a form of criterion referencing and (not surprisingly) because of league tables, teachers got better at lock-stepping kids through the criteria and each year more kids passed.

Returning to the nonsense of norm referencing might get Gove headlines in the Telegraph but it is fundamentally flawed, unfair and, if you were playing the system, you would simply elect to take your exam with all the failed-first-time retakes in December.

I still don’t understand why we want to “mark” at all. Surely “describing” would be so much more informative for everyone.

All Change Please! assumes that letters or numbers are essentially a quick, simple and generally unreliable way of informing potential employers or other educational institutions how good a teenager is at passing exams, being born on the 1st September and not suffering from hay fever during June. But what most people ignore is the fact that whether they are letters or numbers the difference between them is very small, given that pass grades tend to fall between around 40 and 70 marks of 100, so using them as a reliable measure to distinguish between the clever and the useless is, err, somewhat useless.

If we must, let’s make the system more similar to other forms of certification in which there are just three possible outcomes, e.g., Distinction, Pass, and Fail. Which, when you think about it is much more like real life, where you tend to be able to do something either extremely well, acceptably, or not at all.

Image credit: Leo Reynolds  Flickr