Ofqual algorithm skews student grade predictions

Occurred: August 2020

An algorithm developed by a UK government agency to predict student exam grades during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in inaccurate and unfair results, and exacerbated socio-economic inequality.

In 2020, qualifications, exams, and tests regulator Ofqual devised a grades standardisation algorithm to address grade inflation and moderate teacher-predicted grades for A-level and GCSE qualifications in England. 

However, the algorithm faced significant criticism for a flawed design process, leading to inaccurate results; and inadequate accountability. It also resulted in multiple negative impacts, including: 

An Equality and Human Rights Commission report stated that the Ofqual’s algorithm may have a lasting effect on young people from certain ethnic minority backgrounds, disabled pupils, and those with special educational needs who were already disproportionately disadvantaged.

The incident resulted in the resignation of Ofqual's chief regulator. It also led the opposition Labour Party to accuse the agency of violating the UK Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009.

The UK government later abandoned the algorithm in favour of teacher-led assessments.

Operator: Department of Education
Developer: Ofqual
Country: UK
Sector: Education
Purpose: Predict exam grades
Technology: Standardisation algorithm   
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Accountability; Bias/discrimination - economic; Robustness
Transparency: Governance

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