Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

GCSE results: academic success cannot be measured by grades alone

Results days is an anxious time for all concerned, writes Mark Steed, but it's important to keep a sense of perspective

British universities have thousands of courses with spaces still available this year. Navin Khianey for The National
British universities have thousands of courses with spaces still available this year. Navin Khianey for The National

Today thousands of students who study in UK curriculum schools in the UAE receive their GCSE results. This year I was also an anxious parent, hoping that my 16-year-old achieved the best possible grades. Amid the anxiety and relief, the questions nagging at the back of the minds of many parents on results day are: did my child get the best possible grades that he could have and has the school done a good job?

As parents and teachers we know that not all children are the same. Some have a greater aptitude for academic studies than others. For some work comes easy, for others it is hard. Some make a huge effort, while others are lazy or disengaged. For this reason, academic success cannot simply be measured by the final grades: a gifted student who achieves 10 A grades may have underperformed, whereas a less gifted student may well have fulfilled her potential and achieved five Bs and three Cs. The true measure of performance in any examination is not raw results; rather we should judge our children’s performance in relation to their ability. The question is how do we decide whether or not a student has fulfilled his or her potential?


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One important way of evaluating this is by looking at a measure of “value added”. The Durham University Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) has been researching student performance for more than 30 years. Over this time, millions of students have been tested at the start of their secondary schooling (age 11) and their performances monitored at GCSE (age 16). This data allows CEM to define with a high degree of accuracy what grade a student of a given baseline score is most likely to get in their GCSE in a given subject. If a student gets an A or A* when the baseline score suggests a lower grade, for instance, it might be said that he or she has exceeded expectations.

Value-added is also a useful measure of evaluating schools, departments and even teachers. A school, department or teacher who consistently has students who are exceeding expectations is adding value and is doing a great job; conversely a school, department or teacher whose students consistently fall short of expectations indicates the urgent need for improvement. Savvy parents looking for a secondary school would be well advised to ask for the school's value added scores, rather than just their raw GCSE results – they can be far more telling.

Results days is an anxious time for all concerned. It's usually a time for celebration, as well as a time for relief. When your child brings you the result slip, don’t forget that their greatest achievement is sometimes the hard-fought C grade in the subject that they find most difficult.

Mark Steed is Director of JESS, Dubai

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Updated: August 24, 2017 10:22 AM