Thursday, August 16, 2007

'A' Levels - An Ingenious Solution

So the 'A' level pass rate has moved up again!!! This time from 96.6% to 96.9%. As one radio DJ asked this morning, is there anyone out there who didn't get 3 'A' grades?

However, let's not moan about this increasingly irrelevant exam. Let's instead be positive.

Jamie Whyte, writing in the Times this morning, has an elegant solution to halt grade inflation. It's simple and ingenuous.

'With independent examiners, why should A-level grades inflate?' asks Whyte.

'The answer can be seen by analogy with the consumer credit business. A levels are to universities and students what credit scores are to banks and borrowers. Universities admit students on the basis of A levels and banks make loans on the basis of credit scores. Universities (banks) want A levels (credit scores) to provide accurate information about academic ability (credit worthiness) because admitting weak students (lending to risky customers) and rejecting clever students (declining safe borrowers) are bad for business. But only the best students (safest borrowers) want grades to be accurate. Most benefit by grades being skewed upwards.

'Businesses tend to do what benefits their customers, since otherwise they will lose out to competitors. The credit ratings provided by companies such as Experian are purchased by banks, not borrowers. So we should expect them to be accurate rather than favourable. A-grades are provided by examination boards who charge students for their service and compete for business from schools. So we should expect A levels to be favourable rather than accurate.

'The incentives for grade inflation are worse yet. Imagine that the Government involved itself in consumer credit as it does in education. Imagine that there were a department dedicated to improving the creditworthiness of the population, and that it had a stated target for increasing the number of people granted loans. And imagine, finally, that the Government also regulated credit agencies and the way they assessed credit quality. It would be amazing if credit scores did not inflate like A levels.'

So, on to Whyte's elegant solution

'Examination boards should be legally obliged to sell their products to universities, not students or schools. In all other respects, the provision of grades should be deregulated. Grade inflation would stop immediately. No company trying to sell its grades to Cambridge University would lump half its students into its top grade, as occurs with the further maths A level.'

Give that man a job. Err, how about Schools Minister.