A-Level organisers ought to consider downgrading themselves

An algorithm designed to predict their grades instead brought a week of chaos for secondary students in the UK and around the world

Students march to the constituency office of their local lawmaker, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, in South Staffordshire, England, Monday Aug. 17, 2020.  Students are protesting over the government's handling of A-level results, using an algorithm to work out marks, with many students receiving lower than expected grades after their exams were cancelled because of the coronavirus restrictions. (Jacob King/PA via AP)
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Last week, pupils across the world who were enrolled in the British education system received their A-level results, a series of exams that determine whether they graduate and how well they scored. For these youths,  including those in the UAE and other countries who are enrolled in British-curriculum schools, A-levels play a significant role in university admissions and, consequently, in shaping lives.

This year, pupils across all systems have had an especially rough time.  For the better half of the school year, pupils attended classes from home. One fall-out of the pandemic was that online learning became the norm, as did remote exams.

British authorities thus cancelled the usual A-level exams. Instead, an algorithm predicted the grades that pupils would have scored had they been able to take exams as usual. But this has been anything but a regular year for millions of students, begging the question of whether or not such a method could reflect students' performance and potential fairly. 
The A-levels algorithm was based on an average of prior grades. But in far too many cases, the results did not reflect their actual academic performance. As many as 40 per cent of pupils' marks were downgraded by the exam regulator. The British government, however, reversed its decision on Monday and changed policy, reverting to teacher-assessed grades for the final results – a huge relief for pupils and their parents.
Had British ministers not taken this step, the algorithm would have yielded an unfair outcome, one that would have hampered future employment prospects of countless teenagers. So many in the class of 2020 would have been robbed of the chance to get into the university of their choice.

Whether students are in schools that follow the British curriculum or not, this has been a stressful year

An antidote to the clamour around the A-levels, though, was the announcement of results for GCSEs, exams for younger pupils, on Thursday morning. A record number passed in the UK, which would no doubt have restored some faith in an education system to which the A-level debacle has dealt a major blow. Although GCSE exams are less consequential, that a quarter of the grades were awarded the highest marks goes some way to giving respite to an international student body that has been let down by the failure of so many national leaders to co-ordinate and get a handle on the coronavirus pandemic.

Some pupils – those who suspect they were downgraded because of a glitch in the software – have now been given a chance to reapply to their first choice of university.

Whether students are in schools that follow the British curriculum or not, this has been a stressful year. Being unable to attend classes in person or socialise with friends at school is hard on young people. Many have missed out on graduations, spring break and other rites of passage that add to a well-rounded high school experience.

The pandemic has also put strain on their families. In addition to the difficulties of working  while their children are studying from home, many parents around the world are dealing with great uncertainty, while some have lost jobs or been dealt salary cuts. It is especially difficult for those parents to see their children get the short end of the stick so early in their lives.

An education holds the promise of better opportunities and a bright future. It is the duty of an education system to see that promise upheld.