What data will be used to inform the grades in 2021?

The consultation from the DfE has given us a lot of information about what is the likely process for awarding students grades in 2021. Being aware of the proposals therefore gives us a really good idea of what is likely to be required from Exam boards and schools for the 2021 Grading process and how to prepare. You can of course wait for the final results of the proposal, but for those who want to prepare early we think there is some great information to help you stay ahead of the curve. 

What can be used:

 The consultation proposes that the following sources of evidence that are to be used to inform students’ grades:

  • Assessments produced by exam boards that cover sections of the course
  • School’s own assessments 
  • Non-examined Assessments – If the NEAs have not been completed then teachers would make a judgement on this based on evidence that is available to them. 
  • Earlier work from the course may be used to moderate the grades “if it provides evidence to support a higher grade
  • Other sources of performance evidence could include: 
    • formal tests 
    • mock examination results
    • substantial candidate work (which relates to the qualification specification, and where the school or college are confident it was completed without support / external support)

The underlying message we can take from the consultation is that a combination of data is to be used to inform the teacher’s judgement. It is not going to be a straightforward case of sitting one exam paper for a subject, applying a grade boundary and giving a grade. Our blog on Preparing for 2021 Centre-Assessed Grades covered the wider implications and tips to get ahead. So let’s take a look at each of the sources of information that can be used in a little more detail.

Exam board produced assessments

The exam boards will be required to provide assessments, with the following possibilities:

  • a combination of questions from past papers and new questions
  • Assessments which cover a reasonable proportion of the content
  • Assessments that enable teachers some [our emphasis] choice of the topics on which their students could answer questions
  • Assessments that allow teachers the ability to choose from a set of shorter papers, based on topics – multiple papers might be chosen to ensure sufficient coverage of what is assessed.
  • Assessments which may cover smaller areas of the course to allow flexibility to teachers to cover the areas of the course they have been able to deliver. 

Rather than seeing a couple of the above possibilities confirmed by the consultation, it is more likely that choice will be given to the exam boards to apply options that are the best fit for their subject and units. 

All of the options above should enable students to demonstrate their ability, whilst ensuring sufficient breadth of content coverage so as not to limit progression. This also implies that the exam structure will not necessarily match the usual unit structure, but should match the exam style. For subjects where that works well, it may be that units will be split into smaller assessments to match the unit – we have already seen this in History and English in the changes back in October 2020. Those assessments may then be combined to give the right weighting for the unit to ensure an appropriate breadth of assessment. This is something that our trackers on Pupil Progress are already built to support teachers with.

The consultation states “The papers taken by each student will have to cover a similar proportion of the content, to avoid disadvantaging a student who has to show how they can perform.” We are yet to find out how GCSE, AS and A level grades should be awarded across a wider range of topics against one who has to show how they can perform in just a couple of topics. This could mean that there is a requirement to assess either a required number of marks, or could go down the route of using the unit weightings to ensure that there is not an advantage gained by only being assessed in one part of the course. Our trackers are built to handle this and ensure units and assessments contribute the right weighting to overall course grades.

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Schools or Trusts Papers

Even though the exam boards will be providing assessments to be used, the consultations suggest that schools will also be able to use formal assessments that they have created to make grade judgments. In this situation, the centre would have to be confident that they provide a suitable level of rigour and accuracy to be used, so they could justify the grades in the case of an appeal.

The proposals in the consultation states that any centre that uses its own assessment papers must include mark-schemes and that these papers should be sat during the assessment window. Rather than data collected throughout the course, the implication is that all students will be expected to sit an assessment for exam-based units during the assessment window to inform the grades for the exam assessed units.

Non-exam assessment and separately reported results and grades

The consultation proposes that teachers should take account of the standard of the student’s non-exam assessment in their final assessment. 

The consultation states that “students should not be penalised if they have been unable to complete their non-exam assessment for reasons beyond their control”. Teachers would therefore need to assess the evidence that was available for the students in these circumstances. This would also suggest that any grade judgements should apply the correct weighting to the marks or grades achieved in the NEA units within a course.

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Other performance evidence

The consultation proposes that “teachers should be able to take other evidence of a student’s performance into account when deciding on the grade to be submitted to the exam board.” For example it states earlier work from the course may be used to moderate the grades “if it provides evidence to support a higher grade”. This highlights that the grades from the assessment window is not going to be the sole piece of information that should be used in recommending a student’s grade. Interestingly it’s worth noting that it refers to a “higher grade”, suggesting that other evidence should not decrease the grade informed by the NEA and assessments during the assessment window.

The consultation does note that Exam boards will be required to give further guidance on the extent to which this other evidence should inform the grade. This evidence is likely to include formal tests (such as End of Topic Tests), mock examination results and substantial candidate work.

It appears that this other evidence is likely to only be used to make minor adjustments from the grade suggested by the May to June Assessments and NEA. Whether this is limited by a specific number of grades or a more subjective judgement is yet to be seen.

Structured Assessment Window Assessments

The consultation proposes both sitting assessments and making grade decisions in May to June. This is to reduce the risk of “leaked” papers, extra preparation time for assessments and some equity on the timing of judgements. 

The consultation presses the idea that all students should be able to receive a grade, including private candidates. In reference to the formal assessments in May to June, it also states that “arrangements will need to be made for all students, even those students who have to sit the assessments at home”. It is likely that the responsibility is likely to fall on the shoulders of the centre to organise the logistics of this.

How much guidance and support with students sitting assessments outside of the centre is yet to be given. While this is really challenging to ensure security and prevent malpractice in the way the assessments are sat, we are aware that there are programs that can allow online invigilation that are widely used in higher education, such as Respondus LockDown Browser and Exam.net. Even if these sort of programs aren’t used or specified, and create logistical and technical challenges of their own, they do provide a solution that does make it possible for the DfE to require all centres to make sure all candidates are assessed at some point during the assessment window.

Either way, this would mean that centres will need to do some form of assessment during the proposed assessment window for their subjects for all students.

Ensuring a Consistent and Rigorous Approach

Using the data from the sources stated above, teachers will be required to provide a recommended grade for all students, following processes set out by the school or centre to provide consistency and rigour. The consultation recommends that greater weight should be given to evidence of a student’s performance that is closer to the time of the final assessment – this is more likely to be in terms of using a professional judgement rather than a specific calculation to give more weighting.

Pulling all of this data together, giving the right weightings to each unit, assessment and NEA is something that Pupil Progress was built to do. You can choose the most rigorous assessments to calculate an overall grade calculated exactly the way the exam board does using your raw data. You can then apply your professional judgement to moderate the final grade to ensure it is reflective of any other assessments or evidence that you have.

Centres will be required to evidence the internal standardisation processes they have taken to ensure the grades have been awarded fairly and accurately. Good tracking will provide transparency to the process and support teams to ensure a consistent approach has been applied, giving you confidence in the grade you will be recommending.

The consultation aimed to also take into account the point of view of students and their experience of the process and opportunities for appeals. Informing students of where they are at during a course is expected in normal circumstances, and will be essential this year to reduce the number of appeals. Managing student expectations by showing them what grade they are on track for and the data that is being used to inform this judgement will ease tensions and allow students to identify ways in which they can improve. Reports such as those produced by Pupil Progress clearly show the assessment data that you are using and how it is being used to calculate their grade. This will support teachers in any conversations with students.

Preparing for a Teacher Judgement Grade

In terms of preparation, we would recommend keeping your current data in order, as it will be used to inform your grading decisions. Our article on Preparing for 2021 Centre-Assessed Grades covered the key implications and tips on preparing your teams for the process. Be aware of the assessment gaps you have, both in terms of students and subject areas. Use the data that you have to inform where the skill and knowledge gaps are to continue revisiting and strengthening before the assessment window. Start thinking about how you will handle collating the data from all assessments and ensuring the right weighting is applied to the most rigorous assessments. 

You are not alone in this; we will also be running webinars as more information comes out on how you can support your teams through this process – sign up here for more information. We have Grant-Enabled Access that gives all schools access to two free subject areas to Pupil Progress to support them with their Centre-Assessed Grades for 2021.

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