Special consideration doesn’t skew exam grades

17 December 2010

Despite the increase in special consideration applications the percentage of students who improve their overall grade as a result is less than one per cent in any given subject, says new research from international exams group Cambridge Assessment.

The report sheds light on recent concerns about teachers abusing the system in order to help schools to climb national league tables. Special consideration is the post examination adjustment to the marks of candidates who were present during the assessment but were disadvantaged for a specified reason. The report provides evidence in relation to the increasing numbers of special consideration requests and the effect of the enhancements in the overall grades in a range of GCSE and A Level subjects.

The data shows that, while schools are increasingly wise to the rules, applications may have increased as a result of modularisation. Applications in modular qualifications are counted per unit and are spread out over a wider period of time which increases the chances of a temporary illness, injury or other unforeseen circumstances to take place. Linear qualification applications are counted only once.

Furthermore, candidates in the high attaining groups are more likely to apply for special consideration than those in low attaining groups and it is more common, in general, to improve grades from C to B or B to A than from D to C, the much debated threshold.

When it comes to school type, independent schools are more likely to submit requests for special consideration, for both GCSE and A Level students, than state schools.

Carmen Vidal Rodeiro, Senior Research Office at Cambridge Assessment and author of the research, said: "It was not surprising that the percentages of students who improved their overall grades after a special consideration enhancement were very small. Our research has confirmed that the enhancements were minor adjustments to the marks, with the most popular tariff applied being 2% of the unit/component mark.

"The area of special consideration is a complex one and exam boards recognise that allowances should be made for students who have been disadvantaged but great care is taken to ensure reasons are genuine and that the system remains fair for all learners.

The report 'Special consideration: a statistical investigation on the number of requests and the impact of the enhancements' is based on data provided by UK exam board OCR.

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