UK's Johnson urged to fix growing England exam chaos

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People take part in a protest outside the Department for Education, London, Sunday Aug. 16, 2020, in response to the A-level results. The British government has been urged to get a grip over how grades are being awarded to school students, who were unable to take exams earlier this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. The latest confusion emerged late Saturday when Englands exam regulator launched a review on its own just-published guidance on how students can appeal grades awarded under a complicated system. (Jonathan Brady/PA via AP)

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced mounting calls Sunday to sort out a crisis over how crucial final grades are being awarded to high school students in England during the pandemic. Hundreds of students took to the streets of London to protest what they consider a grave injustice.

Gathering outside the Department for Education, the students vented frustration at a system that has already seen 40% of final-year A-level students receive lower grades than those predicted by their teachers. Since the grades are key markers to get into college, many students are clearly fearful the lower grades will jeopardize or limit their educational and vocational options.

Because English students couldn’t take their exams this summer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of them have been assessed via a complicated “moderation” algorithm. Many students, parents and even some teachers say the algorithm is flawed.

A-level results, the exams for 18-year-olds on a handful of subjects taken just before getting into universities, were awarded Thursday. The more general GCSE results for 16-year-old students are due next Thursday.

Olivia Styles, 18, who ended up receiving lower grades than those projected by her teachers, burnt her results before the cheering crowd in central London even though her university plans had not been affected.

“By burning them, it’s sort of saying I don’t accept these results. These are not what I wanted, these are not what I deserved," she said. "I want the results I’ve worked hard for over the past two years. I don’t want this piece of paper to define me as a person.”

The government has said the process was necessary to prevent “grade inflation” that it thinks would render the results worthless.

Critics say there are flaws in the methodology used, including a link with a school’s past performance, which has meant thousands of bright students were effectively penalized for being at a historically underperforming school.