Egyptian students enrolled in the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) system, developed and managed by the UK’s University of Cambridge, have taken to social media platforms to express their rage over the downgrading of results by the UK exam boards, experienced by almost half of IGCSE students worldwide, according to Cambridge Assessment International Education.
This year, students in Egypt of equivalent degrees, mainly the national system of the “Thanaweya Amma,” started the first phase of registration for universities, filling out forms of colleges of their desire in which they are accepted based on their scores. Meanwhile, many IGCSE students are still considering whether to appeal their grades before they apply for university.
Students worldwide were shocked when they received grades lower than those proposed by their teachers in each subject. Due to the coronavirus crisis, schools in many countries closed, including IGCSE schools, causing Cambridge to announce banning students in more than 150 countries through over 4,800 schools from sitting exams.
“We have taken the difficult decision not to run our international examinations in the May/June 2020 series in any country,” Cambridge International wrote on its official website, including other programmes, such as International AS & A Level and Cambridge O Level.
In Egypt, students on social media argued that they received lower grades than those expected by their teachers, adding that their grades were even inconsistent with those of other mates, which would obstruct them from entering the colleges they want.
Head of the 118-year-old Cairo University in Greater Cairo’s Giza governorate Mohamed El-Khosht sided with the IGCSE students, critcising the “unfair Cambridge policies” that he said “booted” the students' efforts.
He described the IGCSE as one of the most successful programmes in the world but that the Cambridge policies this year have “violated the British traditions in education, which are known for being fair.”
“Cambridge has to rethink its decision and the British government has to review the Cambridge policies in terms of arbitrary assessment,” El-Khosht wrote on Facebook.
So what happened this year?
Teachers in IGCSE centres worldwide were asked to send predicted grades; these are the grades assessed by teachers and approved by heads of departments for each student, based on the results of the exams and other assignments and tests over the course of each of the three years included in the programme, starting from year 10. Teachers also hand a “rank order”, simply by putting each group of students in numbers starting from 1, according to activity and performance over the year, which means that 1 is the most secure from being downgraded, and 2 is less secure, and so on.
Exam boards received the teachers’ predictions for each student and, as usual, was set to conduct the final step, known as the “standardisation process”; this is when Cambridge International awards grades through combining data from the school with “other data," including “historical school performance data,” says Cambridge International.
This means centre-assessed marks can be different from the final grade awarded by Cambridge.
This year, Cambridge International wrote on its website that the grades of less than half of IGCSE students worldwide were changed from predicted marks by their teachers in each subject, most of them to a lower grade, while the rest had their grades untouched.
Justifying the action, Cambridge International said on 11 August “Predicted grades for June 2020 were higher than historical school performance data for the last three years, which is understandable, as teachers want to see their students succeed.”
Ahram Online talked to Hania Khalil, a mother of a student in year 10 whose grades were dramatically downgraded. She expressed deep disappointment as only two of the students in her son’s class, which comprises between 20 to 30 students, received grades similar to the predicted marks.
Khalil says her son was predicted to receive B* in Chemistry, but he was then downgraded by the exam board to E. He also had his grades in Information Technology downgraded from A* to B*, meaning that some of the students had their marks degraded by even more than a level.
The difference between A* and A, for example, is not as slight as it looks. A* means 100 percent and A means 95 percent. Accordingly, students getting an A will not be able to join many colleges, especially in the medical sector, known to be fiercely competitive in Egypt.
Khalil said she went to her son’s school and talked to the manager and found that the latter already sent appeal emails to the British Council in Egypt and a senior official in Cambridge. The manager told Khalil that appeals can only be considered in case all students submit them. Khalil said many students will not sign the petition because they got fair marks.
The one solution left is to pay 50 percent of the course's cost to retake an exam, she added.
In an interview with Akher El-Nahar TV programme on El-Nahar channel, El-Khosht confirmed that he spoke with an official at the British Council who also said students can retake exams for half their cost.
Cambridge International’s stance on appeals this summer seems unclear so far.
On its official website, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), which is in charge of regulating qualifications, examinations and assessments in England, reviewed the normal appealing mechanism, including marked assessment material, moderation process, marking error, as well as assessment material marked by the IGCSE centres.
However, it then said, in a report published by the Assets Publishing Service in April, that these normal procedures cannot be carried out this year, as “there will be no assessment material marked or moderated by the exam board and no criteria against which to determine whether an error has occurred.”
Ofqual says students think their grades do not reflect their performance in an exam as they will have the chance to sit exams in Autumn or the following Summer.
Khalil says she feels sorry for those in Grade 12, the last year of the programme before college, because they do not have the opportunity to retake exams.
She noted that, when Cambridge decided to cancel exams, online exams were conducted by schools and centres and they were monitored by cameras. Moreover, each student over the course of the year has undergone 1,500 exam papers in each subject, in addition to mock exams and quizzes, to offer the exam boards sufficient data on each student.
“They demanded certain standards but then they ditched them,” she added.
She also referred to the move made by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who decided last week to allow students whose results were downgraded to use the grades predicted by their centres.
Amid public anger worldwide, Cambridge International wrote that it had been listening to the feedback by IGCSE students and schools and is trying to carefully find appropriate response to the feedback that would, also, make sure schools, universities and employers continue to trust our qualifications.
It pledged to announce the actions it will take on Tuesday, 18 August.