Marking System Is Better Than Grading System

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  • Topic: General Certificate of Secondary Education, GCE Advanced Level, Higher
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Marks into Grades
A Review of the Underlying Issues

The views expressed in the report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SQA or any other organisation(s) by which the author(s) is/are employed. SQA is making this research report available on-line in order to provide access to its contents for those interested in the subject.

Marks into Grades: A discussion of the underlying issues

Executive summary
Grades and grading
This report was produced by Dr Mike Kingdon, Principal Education Consultant, Entity Group Ltd, in March 2009.
Given the inevitable annual variations in the standards of individual examination components, most writers concur that marks alone are inadequate for reporting results. Converting marks to grades endows results with greater meanings — across diets, options, subjects, and in many cases across qualification streams — than marks alone can provide.

There is also a consensus that grading (many organisations use the term ‘awarding’) is the process of converting raw marks for components into component and subject grades. In the traditional examination cycle, grading is one step in the qualifications delivery process. In common with other UK regulators and awarding bodies, the principles underpinning SQA grading are founded in case law and informed by developments in psychometrics and ICT. Given its unique national status, SQA and its forerunners have been able to implement quality systems that have been impossible for other UK awarding bodies. However, despite this immense administrative and intellectual legacy, grading remains a judgemental process.

Efficient grading depends on the design of the assessment regime, the validity of the assessment components, plus the reliability and completeness of marking and marker standardisation. In their turn, the efficiency of grading decisions can be evaluated in terms of the:

♦ Comparability of the grades awarded — whether over time, across all of the routes that lead to the same subject grade, across recognised points of equivalence with other qualifications, or across other subjects at the same level

♦ Validity of the aggregation process —the greater the number and heterogeneity of the components to be combined into one grade, the more difficult it becomes to achieve adequate validity
♦ Discrimination of the final/subject marks — specifically the number of marks between adjacent grade boundaries
♦ Robustness of the grades
The grading of Scottish school leaving qualifications is subject to several challenges not experienced to the same extent in other UK systems and the majority of other national systems. First, the Scottish system is unique in having six overlapping streams of school leaving qualifications. As a result there are more grades to award. Second, there are recognised points of equivalence between the streams that need to be comparable. Third, UCAS recognises some of the Scottish grades as equivalent to those of other UK systems. Traditionally, SQA (and its forerunner) have participated only occasionally in the comparability studies of school leaving qualifications organised by other UK awarding bodies,

Marks into Grades: A discussion of the underlying issues

or in any of the comparisons organised routinely by QCA. A final UCAS benchmarking for the qualifications introduced in 2000 was planned for 2008. However, SQA does use systems of national and international benchmarks to monitor standards over time and between countries. All of these systems for monitoring the standards of SQA examinations continue to evolve. Nevertheless, users’ assumptions about grade equivalence should be treated with caution. A general concern is expressed about the ways many users of SQA and other UK qualifications are treating reported grades. UCAS tariffs and most value-added calculations assume that grades are at the interval or even ratio levels of measurement. SQA more modestly claims only to be assessing at the...
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