Credit: Shutterstock Anger and confusion followed the release of this year’s Scottish Qualification Agency (SQA) results, the first of the UK nations to publish school results in the aftermath of COVID-19. About one quarter of teacher-recommended grades were changed: most were downgraded, and this was more likely to happen to pupils in poorer areas . This controversy shows that assessment is not neutral: the system of assessment can benefit some groups of students over others and it requires more than technical processes to ensure justice.
While the Scottish government initially defended the results in the name of maintaining standards, they are right to have now recognised that the approach was too technocratic and broke an essential link between what a student has actually done and the mark they receive—which is the genuine meaning of standards. But this problem is not new to this year’s results.
How assessment works
To understand the strengths and weaknesses in the initial SQA approach we need to compare two different approaches to assessment : norm-based and criteria-based. In criteria-based assessment students’ work is evaluated against specific criteria, such as strength of argument, quality of research or clarity of expression. All students are assessed against the […]
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