From now on, things will be handled markedly different in foreign language A-levels, according to Ofqual. The announcement was made after the office wrapped up its investigations, acting on the complaints of various language teachers that there is unpredictable and inaccurate grading in the A-levels for Spanish, German, and French, and that their best candidates often did not receive the expected highest grades. This seems to be primarily due to poorly created exams and an inconsistent marking system.
The teachers expressed their concerns that the grading process, which has been in place for over a decade, has resulted in a low percentage of students receiving A* grades on the foreign language exams. The teachers also noted that the unevenness in the grading could not be easily explained.
The Ofqual investigation proved that the teachers’ concerns were valid and that the marking system and the exam design were indeed flawed. Ofqual concluded that the exam boards need to redesign their exams so that these can more accurately differentiate the ability of the students. When the reforms are in place, the regulator believes that there will be an increase in the number of students getting A* grades.
Chief regulator Glenys Stacey asserted that the exam boards must ensure that the design of the assessments can fairly differentiate the skills and abilities of the students taking foreign languages. It is very important that the teachers and students are able to trust that the exam results are determined fairly.
In reviewing the Summer 2014 test results, only 7.7% of students received an A* in A-level Spanish, 8.9% in German, and 6.6% in French. These were very low results when compared to the number of A’s in other areas, such as 10.1% in classical subjects and 17.3% in math subjects.
The report showed that the criteria for gauging correct answers were unclear, as revealed by the inconsistent marking scheme and the fact that very few high-ranking students received high marks. Writing abilities were given much less weight than speaking skills, according to the report.
The revised exam structures should be implemented by next summer. It is projected that in the years to come, there will be a need to change the speaking assessment as well. Ofqual clarified that although the exam structures will be changed, there will be no alterations necessary in how foreign languages are taught or how students prepare for their exams.
The changes were welcomed by both the public and private sectors. The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference chair, Richard Harman, the National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, Russell Hobby, and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Brian Lightman, jointly issued a statement, welcoming the positive and favorable action taken by Ofqual.