Developing grade descriptions for the new GCSEs: considerations and challenges

Grade descriptions are to be developed for the new GCSE qualifications that will be first taught from September 2015 (Ofqual, 2014). This paper discusses the potential role of grade descriptions in the new qualifications by exploring their purpose and the issues which impact on their effectiveness. It is argued that grade descriptions, in their current form, are not useful for either of their two primary purposes: supporting teachers as they prepare students for assessment and supporting examiners as they set grade boundaries during awarding. Possible methods for developing new descriptions are outlined, with particular attention given to an empirical approach whereby data from live examinations is used to identify items which discriminate between candidates at different grades (e.g. Greatorex, Johnson, & Frame, 2001). It is proposed that the current approach to grade descriptions should be discontinued and replaced with post-hoc exemplification of grades that will better meet the needs of teachers while also more accurately reflecting the nature of the assessment system.

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