Grade Boundaries (2015) – Why the volatility Part I
May 25, 2017
Grade Boundaries (2015) – Why the volatility? Part I
AQA GCSE grade boundaries 2015
Every summer, when schools’ GCSE results are made available across the country on that fateful Thursday morning, many students anticipate a clean sweep of what used to be As and A*s – now 8s and 9s! – while others worry about what to do should they narrowly miss out on a C (now 4 and above).
This sense of anticipation, worry, and outright dread in some cases is compounded by the reality that the grade boundaries for GCSEs change almost every year. Many factors weigh into why they change, including subject, difficulty and the exam board you sit them with.
Let’s take 2015 as an example. That summer saw GCSE Grade Boundaries fluctuate dramatically, particularly in maths and English, meaning many students, and their teachers, were left disappointed, having failed to achieve their predicted grades in one or both of these subjects.
Due to the changes – in short, a raising of the total marks needed to achieve the much-sought C grade or higher – some schools saw an unexpectedly low number of pupils achieving grades A*–C in the two subjects.
Teachers were exasperated by ‘volatility’ in the results, with some exams appearing to be harder to pass ‘for no obvious reason’. Union leaders said the unpredictability of qualifications could discourage pupils from taking harder subjects at A-level. And, meanwhile, documents released by exam board Edexcel showed the boundary for a C grade in maths was raised by eight marks compared with the previous year, 2014.
Personal disappointment for and additional pressure exerted on outgoing students and their schools aside, many employers now ask for at least a C grade in GCSE English and maths; for pupils who fall short, it is now compulsory to retake these subjects.
Overall, the problem seems to stem from exams regulator Ofqual’s drive to maintain the stability of the proportion of pupils awarded each grade year-on-year. This means candidates are assessed on how they compare with their national year group rather than whether they have reached a particular standard.
This continual variation means teachers don’t know what a C means in terms of what the pupils need to learn, this uncertainty undermining teachers’ confidence to prepare pupils.