What do I need to do to get an A?

Some anxieties about grading the new A-level specifications.

I have attended the new specification meetings for both A-level psychology and A-level sociology, walked through the new content and completed the marking exercises in preparation for the new term ahead. The content changes are not major, apart from my concerns about the removal of suicide from AQA Sociology.

The new mark schemes look doable, sometimes 3 mark bands have been split into 5, whilst in other examples 3 mark bands remain but the points allocated have changed. I have got some worked examples, I think I know how to apply the mark boundaries. We seem to be using the familiar language in the assessment objectives.

The thing that is really worrying me is that we are not sure what the grade boundaries will be.  I know the exam board would say that they do not know either as they will need to wait until the first cohort have sat the paper before the boundaries can be set. I also know that we never really know where the grade boundaries will be as the exam boards reserve the right to move them up and down each year depending on the cohort performance.  We are always dependent on the bell curve being in our favour (so much for gold-standard?).

However, there is something comforting about having a set of past papers, looking at the questions and showing students the grade boundaries for each cohort. I just feel this comfort blanket is no longer there and it is making me anxious.  I guess I feel I do not know what the new AS and A-level look like.

Clearly, I will need to set assessments and mocks which will need to be turned into grades to be used as a quantitative progress check. I know that in the past we have general patterns of 80%- A, 70% – B, 60% – C and so on. However, this has it’s own problems as often the pass mark can be much lower, in some years an A is around 65%. So how accurate will using this heuristic be?

Furthermore, the request for progress data has always been a difficult one, fraught with issues of reliability and validity. How do you meaningfully capture an individuals progress in a single grade?  The temptation to turn the spreadsheet from red to green over the course of the year can overwhelm the drive to provide valid data?

My school, department, students and their parents will expect accurate progress data at KS5. I know there is an element of professional judgement at work here but for these new specifications it will really be a shot in the dark, even more so than usual?

I also know that there is a move towards providing developmental feedback without grades, so the students focus more on how to improve rather than worry about the grade. In general, I think this is a good idea and fits in well with the moves towards growth mindset and resilience when developing academic skills. While grades have become only part of the assessment and feedback story, we still need to be confident in what grade A, C or E work looks like?

It could be that I am just over worrying about the new academic year.  The new specifications will bed-down just like they always do and I will learn alongside the students.  We have done this before (curriculum 2000, and 2009 spec changes) and we coped.  I wonder why this is making me more anxious than last time around?  I am not against curriculum change, in fact I advocate a more radical overhaul of our current A-level system.   I guess it is because this current meddling and fiddling with the architecture of A-levels has so little pedagogical merit that I am finding it difficult to accommodate the new paradigm.  Change for changes sake does not necessarily improve progress?