GCSE 2021 Grading: New Ofqual Evidence Reveals Assessment Bias

GCSE 2021 Grading: New Ofqual Evidence Reveals Assessment Bias

New evidence reveals assessment bias against boys in teacher assessments, according to Ofqual, England’s exam regulator.

Last week, Ofqual published a literature review of studies exploring bias in teacher assessed grades. The data highlighted a bias against disadvantaged pupils and those with additional educational needs. 

The review comes just as teachers will decide GCSE and A-level grades in England this summer after the cancellation of final exams due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The exam regulator said there was “no exact parallel” between the past studies it looked at and grading this year, following the “unique circumstance under which teacher judgements are called upon for summer 2021”.

Ofqual’s report said: “With respect to teacher assessment, evidence of teacher bias in relation to gender is mixed, but a slight bias in favour of girls (or against boys) is a common finding.”

Evidence on ethnicity and teacher assessments were “mixed”, with findings showing bias against and in favour of each minority group compared to the majority group, as well as findings suggesting no bias at all, 

Ofqual added: “Evidence on disadvantage and special educational needs (SEN) is less mixed, with bias against the more disadvantaged (or in favour of the less disadvantaged) and bias against pupils with SEN (or in favour of those without) being common findings.”

“The greater subjectivity of teacher assessment” means this form of grading is “more vulnerable to bias than test-based assessment”.

It is “Important for teachers to be aware of the potential risks to the validity of their judgements” and for them to “take steps to mitigate them by following Ofqual’s objectivity guidance”.

Ofqual published a blog alongside the report which said: “Because there is more opportunity for bias to creep in to teacher-based results than test-based results, divergence of this sort is more likely to represent bias in the teacher-based results.”

It added: “The literature that we drew upon was fairly limited in size and it is possible that it might have been skewed to some extent by publication bias, whereby evidence of an effect occurring is more likely to get published than evidence of no effect.

“So, it doesn’t necessarily follow that teacher-assessed grades will be biased in these ways this year.”

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Kate Green believes the Ofqual report raised “serious concerns” about the teacher assessed grading system.

She said: “Teachers urgently need support from the government to ensure fair, consistent grades are awarded for all students across subjects, schools and regions but ministers are abdicating responsibility,”.

“The Conservatives’ chaotic mishandling of exam results last summer created huge amounts of stress and pupils urgently need to know what steps will be taken to guard against inconsistent grading and ensure such disruption does not happen again.”

The education select committee warned that the new system could lead to a “wild west” of grades for pupils.

Ofqual has said that teachers should be “aware of the different kinds of unconscious cognitive biases that can compromise judgements” and base their assessments “purely upon evidence of how a student has performed”. Factors like attitude and behaviour should not be considered. 

A Department for Education spokesperson said the Ofqual research “shows that the grading system last summer did not disadvantage students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

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