One of the best things about my job is that I get to meet a lot of teachers. As we’ve developed the new GCSE, I’ve been lucky enough to spend time talking with teachers, and I’ve gained some fantastic insight into their hopes and fears for the new qualification.

However, the question I’ve been asked most is one I can’t answer; how will the new grading work?

This breaks into two related, but different, questions:

• What grade is topic X?
• What will the grade boundaries for the new specification be?

There has been some fantastic debate about both of these points on Twitter recently, and when we launched our new Key Stage 3 tests last week we received a number of questions around grading and levelling.


Grade Boundaries for the new GCSE

I referenced Phil Beech’s article on comparable outcomes in my last blog. Those of you who followed the Ofqual research into the new GCSEs will be aware of the difference between demand and difficulty, as explained in Ian Stockford’s video. As the example above shows, data on student performance is needed in order to set boundaries that ensure grades are awarded for comparable performance year to year, and also in the migration from one grading system to another.

Of course, the need for schools to track student progress doesn’t go away. If exam boards can’t provide guidance then a vacuum is going to arise, which may be filled by assessment products that promise much but deliver little. Any attempt to measure performance without a well thought through and long-term research based approach is unlikely to prove to be a reliable measure of future GCSE performance.

With this in mind, the recent report by the commission on Assessment without Levels has made for pleasing reading. There’s a recognition of the flaws in levelling students which resonated with me, and the overall sense I got from reading it was the desire to develop a culture where the purpose of assessment is always clear, and that teachers are empowered to measure their students in a way that fits with their own needs, rather than something that is too formulaic.

Although our Key Stage 3 tests and GCSE topic tests were produced independently of the commission’s work, I think there is a lot of overlap in the aims. Our tests are designed to be customisable to suit a school’s own scheme of work, are written for different ability levels, and are designed to provide insight for intervention. I hope that they will prove to be a useful resource to support teachers in developing the right system for their school.

Ben Stafford, Maths Qualifications Manager at AQA