Alternative Scottish assessments ‘not fundamentally different’ to last year’s model, says academic

This year’s alternative assessment model for senior high school students is not "fundamentally different” to last year, when pupils in disadvantaged areas saw their results downgraded due to an algorithm, an academic has claimed.

Professor Lindsay Paterson, of Edinburgh University, said councils were using school attainment statistics in the same way for this exam diet as they did last summer. Formal exams have been scrapped for the second year in a row due to the coronavirus pandemic, to be replaced by school-administered assessments.

In an interview with The Ferret, Prof Paterson said the idea from the Scottish Government that assessments were different was potentially “disingenuous”.

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He said: “The algorithm was no more than an attempt to codify the kinds of rules which are also being imposed on teachers this year. The local authorities are using school-attainment statistics in the same way as the algorithm did.

Pupils are sitting alternative assessments this year.Pupils are sitting alternative assessments this year.
Pupils are sitting alternative assessments this year.

"The claim by government ministers that what is happening this year is fundamentally different from what happened last year is either disingenuous, or based on a failure to understand what an algorithm is.”

He added: “The situation is not normal, and pretending that it is normal is dishonest.

"Unfortunately, the people who will pay the price for the dishonesty will be students, above all, but also teachers, who are being forced to do things that they must know are simply wrong.”

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The comments were made by Prof Paterson as the Scottish Government confirmed it was scrapping the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) in line with recommendations made in the long-awaited OECD education report.

Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “Government claims that this year’s assessments are based on teacher judgement are blatantly untrue. This system simply repeats last year’s disastrous flaws by stealth, whilst shifting the blame onto classroom teachers.”

Scottish Labour education spokesman Michael Marra said: “It is clear that grades for our children are being rationed on the basis of past results. The exclusion of last year’s data is further evidence that the SQA see the performance of our young people as an anomaly, an outlier to be corrected rather than as achievements to be celebrated.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that a grade would not be changed because of a school’s past performance, “either at a school, council or SQA level”.

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But the spokesperson said the use of historical school data was a normal part of the “quality assurance process” and was “designed to help support the best outcomes for our young people”, but stressed there was “no place in the ACM for changing a grade because of their school’s past performance”.

Teachers will assess what an individual learner’s provisional grade will be based on their demonstrated attainment,” the spokesperson said.

“We will treat very seriously any concerns raised about the alternative certification model (ACM) process not being correctly followed. Education Scotland is working with local authorities to gather additional reassurance that the ACM is being implemented in accordance with the national guidance.

“Once the provisional grades have been submitted to the SQA, they will not be changed because of any school’s past performance.”

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