Results Day 2017
In August 2017 the first cohort to be examined under the new GCSE specifications in core subjects will gain their results. Different students will open their envelopes excited for the possibilities, regretting the missed revision opportunities or confident that they worked hard, prepared thoroughly and performed to the best of their abilities. Many will have bought into the idea that if they work hard, learn from mistakes and act on the feedback of their teachers they will have nothing to fear inside those envelopes. But is this ideology destined to run into a statistical road block?
There has been much debate on Twitter around the idea of norm, cohort or criterion referencing and how they will combine to produce comparable outcomes in future years’ GCSE results. The short of it is that, to ensure standards remain high, the numbers of students allowed to gain a certain grade will be statistically fixed based on the overall potential of the cohort (based on their KS2 results) compared to the results of the previous cohort. Year on year improvements in GCSE pass rates will be a thing of the past and the “dumbing down” of exams will come to an abrupt end.
Back to August 2017 and those envelopes. For some the scene will be reminiscent of countless results days nationwide for decades. There will be joy, laughter, tears and conversation in abundance. For others however the scene will contain a sprinkle of something new and it’s ripples will spread rapidly.
The Criteria Pebble
The pebble will drop and start the ripple when grade criteria are published; teachers will share these with their students and start teaching them how to access the upper grades. Prior to 2017 we will be dutifully supplied with these criteria by our awarding bodies and will start planning how we can best translate these into learning sequences that facilitate students accessing the best grade possible. As far as I can tell (feel free to correct me) the DfE haven’t yet decided how targets will be set for Progress 8 or whether these will be shared so schools will still target 3 Levels of progress as the expected standard. The mechanics are irrelevant. Schools will take the targets and equip students with the skills to reach these criteria, Intervention will be targeted at all borderlines not just the C/D. Students and teachers alike will dissect and digest the published criteria and the nuanced differences will become the stuff of training, Inset and research. Schools will scramble to equip students with the relevant skills to access beyond their target through focussed teaching and intervention strategies.
A closer look at those new reactions on results day 2017 will reveal the conversations they illustrate: “I did everything sir said I should do for Grade 4 but I’ve got grade 3. Why?”, “Little Emma consistently demonstrated Grade 5 in mocks. Why did she gain Grade 4”. Core teachers and SLT will experience blinding flashbacks to August 2013 and the #GCSEFiasco. The picture will shift in clarity and the realisation of a statistical stitch up will come into focus. The Statistical Stitch Up will emerge. The smoke of an implied criterion referenced qualification will clear to reveal a cohort referenced, statistically fixed awarding. In short, criteria will have been disregarded in order to maintain Comparable Outcomes with the previous cohort.
The ripple will spread, Its effects will be discussed among departments and SLT across the land. “How can we improve our results next year?”. The impact will be felt deeply and widely. Do we develop the best teaching and learning strategies to push our students as high as possible? Do we target our interventions at aspirational targets? Do we “improve” our cohort by shuffling the questionable, disaffected students sideways to other schools?
Fast forward to results day 2020. Will the scene at your school show the emotions associated with a “traditional” results day? Will the confused faces of the 2017 Statistical Stitch Up still be evident? Will there be significant gaps in the profile when you compare them to the intake?
The Key Question
The key question we must ask ourselves is simple: How do we show improvement in our results post 2017? The answers pose more questions. In a statistically fixed system of comparable outcomes a school with a similar intake year on year will struggle to demonstrate improvements over time. For a cohort to improve, their neighbour must decline for the statistics Gods to be appeased. In short: What are we prepared to do to eliminate the confused faces from Results Day 2020? Exhaust all possible avenues in the pursuit of the highest attainment possible for our students? Target intervention strategies early and often? “Improve” our cohorts so that questionables do not affect the statistical outcomes? Our moralistic souls will be searched: ideologies will evolve; Our mettle will be tested to the core. After all; there are lies, damned lies and statistics.