Before we look at solutions, I want to challenge three of the most common fall-backs people have when grades are below their predictions:
- the grade boundaries went up
- it was a really hard paper
- the targets were too high
While they may be true statements, these justifications are not particularly productive. It feels safe to give these as reasons, as it is something out of everyone’s control and so avoids blame. But it also shows a lack of understanding on how boundaries are set, avoids taking any personal responsibility and provides no real solutions.
Yes, grade boundaries do change, but generally only by around ±1-3%. There were a few exceptions to this in 2018-19, mostly in MfL and Sciences which involve tiers. For most courses this is the equivalent of 2 or 3 marks, which is not really significant enough. When doing any grade calculations last year, you will have hopefully shifted your grade boundaries up by a few percent to accommodate for this. If you didn’t, then there is action point number 1!
There will always be exam papers with more challenging questions. A quick search shows that this is the case every year, and the use of social media has raised the profile of this even more. If this is the issue you are going to raise, then it just means there is a need to prepare students for this and encourage them to put their hand up in an exam if they are ever unsure. The argument of more challenging papers doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, as if it is a harder paper, students get less marks nationally, and the grade boundaries then go down. Either way, statistically your students are still in the same position to all others that sat that paper.
The main challenge here is difficulties arise when predictions don’t meet outcomes. Even if the targets you may have been using (and slating!) the previous year were unattainably high, they have no relevance to the disparity between the predictions and final results. It may be a relevant discussion to target setting for the next year, but not in explaining the difference to what you thought the students would get.