Last week the International Baccalaureate(IB) results were declared and since then I have heard many complaints from students and teachers alike about how unfair the results have been. Surprisingly only a handful of stakeholders in education have truly understood how the final grades were calculated. I will not be discussing how these grades were generated as IB has done a great job in explaining it; many educationists and school leaders have also simplified the whole process for all stakeholders. But there is a tension between the students and their parents, the parents and the schools, the school and the students, the students and the universities and the universities and the school, almost like the vicious cycle of mistrust, there is doubt, suspicion, anxiety, fear and negative assumptions. In the next few days, I am sure this will grow exponentially when the A-level exam results are published. This year all ‘Class of 2020’ grades have been generated sans the actual end of year exam, hence there has been an increasing dissatisfaction amongst students and parents as they are unable to foresee a tangible way these grades have been generated. So what can the entire teaching and learning community do to restore the trust and faith in each other and the grading system? Here are a few things all of us can do:
Since schools are closed for the summer, there is limited communication from the schools to students and their families regarding the grading process of the ‘Class of 2020’ exams results. Even though the results come out the same time every year, schools need to consider the extenuating circumstances that led to the cancellation of exams and the impact of this on students. Since most schools have already gone online, they can also open up virtual channels of communication to answer FAQs regarding results and to give students and their families an opportunity to clarify their doubts. For example, schools should consider having an FAQ page on their website or a helpline or an information session for all stakeholders in order to explain the rigorous process and data analysis that has been put together by different organisations to generate the final exam grades. At the same time, schools need to review the internal assessment process and internal grading system to identify the gaps in the assessment process or in the process of generating the school-based grades. The school-based grades are the benchmark for all stakeholders, the students, parent, the education organisation and even the universities. If there is a considerable difference in the actual grades and school grades, it is time to scrutinise the system that is not efficient in order to build a more robust grading and predicting process.
I got a few frantic emails and texts from parents expressing their fears and concerns over the exam grades. Most of these queries were complaints, this was surprising for me as I am also a parent of a 15-year-old who complaints about how unfair life is to him when he gets a lower grade or loses a football match. Of course, my role as a parent is to empathise with my child but my more challenging role as a parent is to understand the root of my child’s problem and the anxiety associated with it. Agonizing over an agony is like adding fuel to fire. As a parent we have a very big role to play, that of understanding the agony of our child and take an unbiased stance based on critically examining the situation, hence I urge parents of ‘Class of 2020’ to reach out to the school in order to understand the grading system, look into their child’s grade objectively and have a thorough conversation with their sons and daughters to hash out any doubts or negativity that might have risen since result day. In this process, if they find a loophole in the school’s or education organisation’s grading system, they should absolutely go ahead and fight their case, but do not make this an social media event to sign petitions and breed negativity and cast aspersions on established and tested grading systems. Do not add fuel to the fire, our role as parents is to douse the fire. This fire will only burn the students’ faith and hope in the institution of education.
Students are the most impacted by the results, good or bad. Their disappointment and desperation are understandable especially if they do not meet their predicted grades or university requirements. It is time for students to take things under control and communicate with their university to confirm if their offers still hold; it’s also necessary to meet the Programme Coordinator or the Head of School to discuss the options of re-evaluating or re-sitting the exams. Students need to note that they were aware of the grading method for this year’s result, hence they should stop comparing results of other schools and other students as this is not helpful, it only builds negative assumptions and causes mental anxiety. A bit of open-mindedness and honesty will go a long way, stop blaming the system and the circumstances which led to this outcome, it’s time to move ahead without negative assumptions. Break the cycle of mistrust and remember even when the actual exams are conducted and the results come out, many students and schools are surprised to find a difference in the actual grades and the expected grades, the difference this year is that there were no written exams, but point to note is that the assessed work is still the student’s own work. The grades are generated from the students’ work and evidence provided by the school supported by data and statistics. Hence, I would advise all students to keep their faith in the process and after thoroughly analysing the process of grading, if it is not acceptable then students should look at ways to find a solution. The solution also depends on how well the students understand the grading system, for example, the decision to re-sit or re-evaluate will completely depend on the understanding of the grading. Students need to be well informed and stay motivated in the pursuit of higher education.
A lot of universities across the world have been flexible with admission requirements, some have become test-optional others are willing to consider school transcripts and recommendations in conjunction with the exam grades. Universities are being increasingly accommodating to ensure they give maximum opportunities to international students to continue their education. Whilst the conversation of admitting students via multiple flexible options has been ongoing since the time the pandemic started, there are still universities who have not done enough research to understand the grading system adopted by different education systems across the world. Students have been denied the opportunity to continue with university education just because they did not make the exact grades as predicted by the school! At this time of uncertainty and confusion, the most reassuring consolation is a place in the university for the next 3 to 4 years. This has been taken away for many students as there is a difference between the school predicted grades and actual grades this year. But again this happens every year and there are ways around it, so this year there should be even more ways to ensure admission offers are not taken away. It is a known fact that students have been most impacted and the class of 2020 has been further disadvantaged by the cancellation of exams. Hence I would request and recommend universities to understand the grading system that led to the current grades and be fair in their decision to decline or accept a student for 2020-2021 admissions. “System-generated” or “default” emails are not the answer, it is frustrating for students and families to receive an email which says, “unfortunately you have not met all the conditions hence we will not be able to confirm a place at…”. As an educator, I thought this year will be an exception, a positive change when academicians across the world will come together to support the ‘Class of 2020’. It is shocking to note that some universities are issuing this kind of emails right after results day proving that no homework has been done to understand the grading process and no empathy is shown towards students even though there is a global pandemic destroying lives and career aspirations for millions of students. If there was ever a time to make an exception, this is the time. I do not mean to criticise any university but I would like to appeal to them to be more considerate and think twice before sending “default” emails and take time to offer an alternative solution especially when the difference in actual grade and required grade is 2-3 points!
This is a very challenging year for everyone, what has kept us going is hope and faith that when all of this is over we would still have opportunities to realise our dreams. But for this to happen we need to keep hope and faith alive; negative assumptions, hasty decisions, mud-slinging and lack of empathy are big impediments on the path to success. These success barriers have to be removed and all stakeholders have to come together in order to do so. After all, results are not the final objective, they are the means to the end. Understand the process, to achieve the desired result.