A-level English passes off the mark

January 10, 1997

More than 5,000 English A-level candidates were awarded invalid and inflated grades in 1996, with many candidates given passes when they should have failed.

The Oxford and Cambridge School Examinations Board has been condemned for "serious misconduct" in one of 20 scrutiny reports to the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority into 1996 public examinations. The report, carried out by five independent subject experts and SCAA staff, concluded that "it was not possible to have confidence in the validity and reliability" of OCSEB's 1996 A level and AS examinations in English and English literature.

Assistant chief executive of SCAA Tony Millns said that "there is no suggestion that any A-level candidate will have their grade withdrawn, even if there is evidence that many got a grade higher than they were entitled to and that too few candidates failed". The findings affect 7 per cent of the 86,6 A-level English candidates.

The report highlighted "several major failings in the conduct of the examinations" and said the board had failed to adhere to the GCE A/AS code of practice. The report points to over-generous adjustment of marks and grades to match predictions.

In one instance "the marks given to a candidate on one component had been changed from 14 out of 60 to 40 out of 60 with no apparent justification". Of the 5,341 English candidates examined by OCSEB, only five failed, and 30 per cent gained a grade A.

The report concluded that: the question papers failed to ensure that all the core objectives were met; the relationship of mark bands to grades was unclear; there was no evidence that coursework marks were considered in any consistent manner; there were no statistics to inform grading decisions; it was not clear that the reading requirements had been met.

OCSEB has been taken over by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, which says action has already been taken to redress the problem in 1997.

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