Research Matters 31

Contents

  • Research Matters 31 - Foreword

    Oates, T. (2021). Foreword. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 31, 4.

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  • Research Matters 31 - Editorial

    Bramley, T. (2021). Editorial. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 31, 5.

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  • Attitudes to fair assessment in the light of COVID-19

    Shaw, S. D., and Nisbet, I. (2021). Attitudes to fair assessment in the light of COVID-19. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 31, 6-21.

    Was the approach proposed for calculating exam grades in summer 2020 fair? Were the grades eventually awarded (after policy changes) fair? What is a fair arrangement for 2021? These questions have been at the heart of debate in the UK in the light of COVID-19. After schools were closed in the spring of 2020 and the decision was made not to proceed with summer exams, it was judged unfair to deny students the grades they needed to progress to the next stage in their lives. The task was to find a fair way to award grades in the absence of exams. The approaches developed in all four parts of the UK—and the Republic of Ireland—were thought by the regulators and Ministers to be the fairest possible, but in the event the grades initially awarded were widely decried as “unfair” and instead all the UK countries switched to awarding Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs). The result was not only significant grade inflation (compared to previous years) but unequal treatment of different subjects and groups of candidates. In this article, we shall briefly recall the conceptual map of “fairness” that we have offered elsewhere and outline received views of assessment fairness before 2020. We shall then discuss five challenges to those received views raised by the COVID-19 experience, particularly in the UK.

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  • On using generosity to combat unreliability

    Benton, T. (2021). On using generosity to combat unreliability. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 31, 22-41.

    Assessment reliability can be affected by various types of unforeseen events. In any such circumstances where a concern is raised that the reliability of assessment is lower than usual, our natural inclination is to allow extra leniency in grading to reduce the chances of students missing out on a grade they deserve. This article shows how, by focusing on the risk for individual students, we might logically approach this situation in deciding exactly how much additional generosity is required. In particular, it shows how making progress with this problem requires an acceptance that no assessment system is perfect and transparency about the level of reliability that is achievable. Having developed an approach, this article also shows how this may lead to different outcomes than the competing desire to maintain assessment standards so that the group of students in question are not unfairly advantaged relative to previous and future cohorts.

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  • A guide to what happened with Vocational and Technical Qualifications in summer 2020

    Mattey, S. (2021). A guide to what happened with Vocational and Technical Qualifications in summer 2020. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 31, 42-50.

    In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closing of schools across the United Kingdom, and to the cancellation of exams and assessments in England. A large number of learners take Vocational and Technical Qualifications (VTQs) that are offered in a diverse range of subject groups and they can be used to enter the next stage of education, apprenticeships or employment. What VTQs did in response to the cancellation of exams and assessments differed to the approach taken for GCSEs and A Levels because of the differences in the structure and assessments of VTQs and because of the differences between VTQs. In this article, we look at what happened in summer 2020 with VTQs typically taken in schools and colleges. 

    The breadth and diversity of VTQs meant that what works for one type of VTQ would not necessarily work for another, either due to the purpose, design and delivery of the qualifications. The regulator therefore produced an Extraordinary Regulatory Framework with the aim to ensure as much consistency in approach as possible and that included three options: calculate results, adapt assessments, and delay assessments. This article explores each of these options and looks at how and why they were implemented.

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  • Early policy response to COVID-19 in education—A comparative case study of the UK countries

    Mouthaan, M., Johnson, M., Greatorex, J., Coleman, V., and Fitzsimons, S. (2021). Early policy response to COVID-19 in education—A comparative case study of the UK countries. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 31, 51-67.

    Inspired by the work of David Raffe and his co-authors who set out the positive benefits gained from comparing the policies of “the UK home nations” in an article published in 1999, researchers in the Education and Curriculum Team launched a project in early 2020 that we called Curriculum Watch. The aim of this project was to collate a literature and documents database of education and curriculum policies, research and analyses from across the four countries of the United Kingdom (UK).

    In this article, we draw on our literature database to make sense of the rapid changes in education policy that occurred in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the four UK nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We analyse some of the key areas of UK policy formation and content (in relation to curriculum, pedagogy and assessment) that we observed during the first six months of the unfolding pandemic. In addition, we reiterate the clear benefits of using comparative research methods in the UK context: our research findings support the idea that closeness of national contexts offers the opportunity for evidence exchange and policy learning in education.

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  • Generation Covid and the impact of lockdown

    Elliott, G. (2021). Generation Covid and the impact of lockdown. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 31, 68-83.

    Many lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic and school-aged students are no exception. The closures of schools and disruption to learning will have an impact as they go forward in their lives.

    In this article, I set out the various school year groups in England who have seen both their learning disrupted and other extracurricular activities curtailed, both inside and outside of the school setting.

    Many students’ learning will have been significantly hindered by the disruptions and some of these will be students whose life circumstances had already placed them at a disadvantage before the pandemic. Others still may have thrived under the unusual circumstances. Paving the way towards recovering lost learning requires a clear understanding of the nature of these different student groups.

    Exploration of the various different groups of students leads to the need to provide research evidence to underpin action taken in the future to mitigate against the issues experienced by this generation.

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  • Disruption to school examinations in our past

    Cooke, G., and Elliott, G. (2021). Disruption to school examinations in our past. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 31, 84-98.

    In times of crisis it is good to look back. Not only is it comforting, but better understanding of events in our past can inform decision-making and help us find direction at uncertain times. COVID-19 may have presented new challenges, but this exploration of historical disruptions to school exams highlights themes and a recognisable human spirit.

    For this study Gillian Cooke and Gill Elliott have identified five crisis events in the history of Cambridge Assessment and tracked responses to these circumstances through documents held in the corporate archive. The flu pandemic of 1918, two World Wars, Indian Partition and the Strikes of the 1970s all, in different ways, pushed the boundaries of examination administration. The search yields both short, and long-term responses and reveals just how much the impact of a crisis is connected to the society that deals with it.

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  • Research News

    Peigne, A. (2021). Research News. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 31, 101-105.  

    A summary of recent conferences and seminars, Statistics Reports, Data Bytes, and research articles published since the last issue of Research Matters.

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Data Bytes

A regular series of graphics from our research team, highlighting the latest research findings and trends in education and assessment.