Schools in Egypt, students and parents, were up in arms last week over the Cambridge grading of their International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) exams. Ayman Ahmed, 18, a grade 12 student, had always dreamed of becoming a doctor. But last week his dream was derailed by a statistical grading model. Ahmed’s admission into Cairo University’s Faculty of Medicine depended on his grades in subjects taken as part of the IGCSE. “I am a star student, and I only had three remaining subjects to complete before I could enrol,” he said. Though he was expecting A stars in all three subjects, he ended up with two Bs and an A.
“With these grades I could not even join the Faculty of Medicine at a private university. The Cambridge algorithm grading system had ruined my future,” said Ahmed.
Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) is a provider of international qualifications and operates in more than 160 countries.
This year’s problems started when CAIE announced on 23 March that students all over the world would not be sitting their June 2020 due to Covid-19. Instead, CAIE asked schools to submit a range of data according to which it would assess students.
CAIE asked schools for information on the basis of which it said it would make evidence-based grading decisions for candidates in each subject. Schools were asked to provide a predicted grade for each candidate in each syllabus entered, a ranking of its candidates within each grade for each syllabus; school heads were asked to confirm the predicted grades and rank orders, and once the information was received CAIE conducted a standardisation process, combining the data from the school with other data, to determine final grades.
IGCSE student Yara Hossam was shocked to see her lower-than-expected grades. “We were first told that there would be no exams. Later we were told to sit for an online exam and that the grades given by our teachers would be sent to Cambridge for standardisation and inspection. And then I received these depressing grades,” said Hossam.
Following the uproar caused by its algorithm model Cambridge announced on 17 August that it was revising the grades it had issued for the June 2020 series and that none would be lower than the predicted grades submitted by the school. If the grade Cambridge issued last week was higher than the predicted grade, the higher grade will stand.
According to Cambridge, it was important that its students could compete on an equal footing with students with similar national or international qualifications, and that their hard work and achievements compare equitably.
Hoda Suleiman, the headmistress of an international school, said CAIE’s decision is backtrack on its standardisation model would save the future of many students, especially those in grade 12 who are supposed to join universities in the next few weeks.
Shehab Mohamed, a grade 11 student, was relieved by the announcement, and now hopes his math grade will be upgraded from B to A.
“I want to join the Faculty of Engineering next year. If my result is upgraded there will be no need to re-sit maths,” said Mohamed.
The Cambridge ordeal had resonated across the globe. The UK announced on Monday that pupils will be awarded their teacher-assessed predicted grades. Roger Taylor, the chairman of the UK’s Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, told Sky News the algorithm-based approach “simply has not been an acceptable experience for young people”. Meanwhile, the UK Education Minister Gavin Williamson said he was “sorry for the distress this has caused young people”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly