New Grades Evaluation service launched for A-Level students who fear their grades have been unfairly lowered

12th August 2020

Award-winning social mobility charity, upReach, launch new Grades Evaluation platform to help the “Covid Cohort” whose A-Level grades may have been unfairly “capped” by the standardisation process, or were under-predicted by their teachers.

A net 39%* of assessments of A-level grades by teachers are likely to be adjusted down before students receive their results, based primarily on historical school performance and teacher rankings. This risks particularly disadvantaging those at lower performing schools or in better than average cohorts whose grades will effectively be “capped” based on the performance of their peers in prior years.

Predicted grades – and by implication the teacher rankings used by Ofqual – have been shown to be an inaccurate forecast of the final grades a student will achieve through examinations. Analysis of three years of university applicant data (Murphy & Wyness, 2020) showed that only 16% of applicants had their grades predicted accurately, and 75% of applicants were over-predicted. However, “high-attaining, disadvantaged students are significantly more likely to receive pessimistic grade predictions.”

To address this, upReach have built a new CovidCohort Grades Evaluation platform, that helps students, schools, universities and employers better understand the likelihood that their A-Level grades have been unfairly capped by the system in place for 2020.

The website will go live at ​midnight on Wednesday 12th August​, with students able to enter their details, in order to receive a free four page evaluation. Click here to read a sample CovidCohort Grades Evaluation.

If students feel their A-Level grades are not a reflection of their academic potential or ability, they are encouraged to contact their school to appeal, and to share their Grades Evaluation with universities and potential employers, encouraging them to use publicly available school performance data and contextualised information to support their application.

John Craven, Chief Executive of upReach, comments:

“Students from disadvantaged backgrounds appear most at risk of having their grades lowered by Ofqual’s standardisation process, dealing another devastating Covid-related blow to social mobility. upReach’s Grades Evaluation platform enables students to understand how likely it is they’ve been unfairly affected, and gives them ammunition to support their application to university or employers.”

How might students be disadvantaged by how grades are being awarded in 2020?

Until Ofqual release their methodology, it is unclear. Current fears include:

  1. Under-predictions​ – In some cases, teachers may under-estimate how well a student would have done in exams, relative to other students. Academic research suggests that higher attaining students from disadvantaged backgrounds are most likely to have their grades “under-predicted.” This also impacts students who make faster progress towards the end of the course, which is harder to statistically model.
  2. High achievers at low performing schools ​– As few students have secured high grades before, they may be at high risk of being lowered by Ofqual’s standardisation process – unless there is a very low number of entrants.
  3. Strong cohort​ – If a student is in a stronger cohort than that school has had in that subject in recent years, they are at greater risk of having their grades lowered by Ofqual’s standardisation process.
  4. I​mproving schools​ – Ofqual’s algorithm takes an equal-weighted average of the last three years, that doesn’t take into account how a school might have improved between 2017 and 2019.
  5. Mock exams​ – Students at schools where mock exams were either cancelled due to Covid, or were set at a higher standard to give students “a push,” don’t have the same opportunity to appeal against a grade as a student at a school where mocks were set with lower grade thresholds (and where that school has the resources to appeal the result).

CovidCohort Grades Evaluation platform will enable students to:

  • Better understand the likelihood of whether their grades might have been capped due to Ofqual’s standardisation process.
  • Find out how their A-Level grades compare to those awarded in each subject at their school/college in prior years.
  • Discover if they’re in a group where grades are historically under-predicted.
  • Learn how their socio-economic background may have impacted upon their ability to achieve the same high A-Level grades as others with the same academic potential at
  • their preferred university.

The free four-page personalised Grades Evaluation will include:

  1. A-Level Grades Evaluation​: At their school, in the prior 3 years, what percentage of students got each grade for the subject they studied – e.g. 25% got a grade C, and a comparison to national averages. Their grade will be shown, allowing a “within-school” comparison to be made, analogous to a ranking – e.g. “top 15%.” This is the most critical information used by Ofqual to determine grades, alongside teacher rankings.
  2. Flag for Likelihood of Lowered Grade​: Indicating the likelihood that their grade was capped / lowered (which would be red, orange, yellow or green, depending on factors including how many students previously got top grades at their school)
  3. “Statistical Outperfomer” Flag for risk of Under-predicted grade​: Indicating whether the student was in a demographic group that statistically outperforms their teacher predictions (based on the latest academic research).
  4. Contextualisation Adjustment Score​: Based on 14 different indicators of socio-economic disadvantage, this score indicates the extent to which a student from their background may be unable to realise their academic potential in a “normal year,” for example, due to attending a very low performing school. upReach’s contextualisation platform, REALrating, has used this to generate contextualised A-Level grades since being built in 2017, and is used by employers to identify hidden academic potential. Most students have a score of zero, but for others this gives a boost of up to 3 grades.

The Grades Evaluation will be informed by the precise details of the standardisation process being used by Ofqual, which is only being released on “results day” on Thursday 13th August. Hence there will be a short delay before students receive their evaluations.

Source:​ ​The Guardian, 7th August 2020, here.