Secret Teacher: we need to look at the lack of rigour in exam marking

Like most schools across the country, my school requests that many of the exam papers sat by GCSE students are re-marked by a senior examiner if they are just a few marks off a grade boundary. This is common practice and especially true of English and humanities subjects where the mark scheme is applied much more subjectively than, say, something like maths where there is a clear right and wrong. The Secret Teacher writes in The Guardian.

This year, we’ve seen a significant number of students’ marks going up by a whole grade boundary. As head of English, I should find this pleasing – after all, it’s a win for those specific students and it helps me reach my own performance management targets by raising the Progress 8 level for the department. But having also been a GCSE exams marker over the summer, for the new English GCSE specification, these re-marks are ringing alarm bells.

Concerns have been raised elsewhere about the inaccuracy of exam marking, and I have some serious worries myself, in particular, about the moderation and standardisation process. I’ve been an examiner in the past (albeit for a different examination board and for A-level rather than GCSE) and have always received face-to-face or chat room training. This was not the case this year. Other than having to mark a small batch of practice papers, I was good to go – let loose to determine the futures of students across the country.

Instead, the moderation process happened during the marking itself. Papers were generated via the online marking platform and randomly – every 20th paper or so – a test-case paper already marked by senior examiners would appear. Once that paper was marked, we’d get a notification telling us if we were in “tolerance” (that is, in line with what the senior examiners had awarded the paper).

f a paper was out of tolerance your ability to mark would be “paused” on the online marking system – and rightly so. But as long as you accepted feedback from your team leader, you would be allowed to keep marking. Despite being an experienced head of English, my marking was paused three times over the course of the process (I was marking 300 scripts).

I’m speaking out because I know that I’m not alone in my concerns. I spoke to a number of other exam markers – heads of English, assistant principals, English consultants and a vice principal – who all had similar experiences; they were paused from marking a few times and were all simply given formative feedback and then un-paused without any real continual monitoring of the accuracy of their work, as far as we were aware.

Of course, schools can ask for papers to be re-marked. But what happens to the students who go to schools that can’t afford to pay to have student papers re-marked? Or those in schools unwilling to put progress scores at risk by resubmitting a paper that could potentially be marked down? There is clearly an inequality issue at play here: students in poorer state schools already have more to overcome in order to reach their potential – from fewer school resources to socio-demographic contributors; let’s not add this to the list.

Read the full article Secret Teacher: we need to look at the lack of rigour in exam mark

Were you an examiner this year with similar worries? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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