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The Ivy Coach Daily

August 18, 2020

UK A-Level Exams

The U.K. used an algorithm to project students’ scores on their A-Levels. As it turns out, the algorithm favors the affluent.

A controversy is brewing in the United Kingdom surrounding the British government’s decision to use an algorithm to predict how students would have done on their A-level exams. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students weren’t able to take these important exams. So the government decided to get creative and, well, chaos ensued. As it turns out, the algorithm heavily relied on a secondary school’s previous track record with A-level results. Naturally, the algorithm thus favored students from affluent backgrounds who attend top schools — schools that often happen to be expensive private ones.

UK Government Based Predicted A-Level Exam Results on Algorithm that Favored the Affluent

As Karla Adam reports for The Washington Post in a piece entitled “The U.K. used an algorithm to estimate exam results. The calculations favored elites.,” “The estimates it generated threatened to lose some students the spots they had been offered at universities this fall, and that sparked outrage in a country where educational opportunities disproportionately favor those from elite backgrounds. Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the A-level exam results when they were released last week, saying ‘let’s be in no doubt about it, the exam results that we’ve got today are robust, they’re good, they’re dependable for employers.’ Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said Saturday that there would be ‘no U-turn, no change’ on the grading system.”

Mass Protests Lead UK Government to Change Course

Uh huh. Then came the mass protests, including in Parliament Square. And then came the government’s apology coupled with a change of policy: A-level exam results would be decided based on whichever score is higher (teacher estimates of how students would have done or the estimates based on the algorithm). Of course, this solution isn’t perfect either since some students from more privileged backgrounds will still benefit from the algorithm’s estimate. Frankly, we’re surprised the government didn’t change course to only base the predicted A-level exam results on teacher estimates of how students would have done. Needless to say, here in the United States, College Board and ACT — two companies suffering through a nightmarish year due to the pandemic — would never get away with estimating students’ results on the SAT or ACT based on the track records of the students’ high schools…not even for a minute.

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