A few words about standards

Weight or measure to which others conform or by which the accuracy of others is judged.

That’s what my (old) dictionary says about standards.

Tomorrow thousands of students will open their GCSE results envelope and will thereafter be able to get on with their lives after the pause of the summer. Whatever the results bring we are told that “standards will be maintained”. I’m wondering how.

GCSEs (and GCEs for that matter) are interesting when it comes to “standards”. The thing is this. Until the papers have been marked, there is no way of knowing what mark will get you what grade. It’s bit like a tree falling in an empty wood. If the papers were not marked would there be a grade boundary?

Is this a problem? I think so. It’s not that students don’t know what mark they have to get to achieve a particular grade. That’s not so much of an issue as they should be trying to do the very best they can. The problem for me is the esoteric one of what we actually call things. Can it really be a standard if we don’t know what it is until after the event? Essentially the results are manipulated to ensure that they stay at the same level as previous cohorts. You can agree or disagree with the approach and the actual mechanics of this (I veer towards disagreeing with it on the grounds that the methodology used is weak) but I would argue that far from creating a standard all this actually does is re-base the outcome so that they match a previous set of outcomes.

This concerns me because words are important. The use the word “standard” implies that there is a “weight or measure… …by which the accuracy… …is judged”. There is no weight or measure here. There is just a level above which some people don’t want the results to rise.

That’s all.

Best of luck to everyone opening envelopes tomorrow. Just remember your Kipling.


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