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University criticised for rescaling spring term exam results

A petition calling on the University to ‘undo’ the downward rescaling has been sent after students from specific departments were told their spring assessment marks would suffer.

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Image Credit: Annie Watson

Students from specific departments, including Computer Science and Economics, have been told that spring term assessments will be ‘more likely to scale’ due to the Covid pandemic. A petition was started in response to this, calling for the University to ‘undo’ the 10 per cent downward scale on assessments. The petition in question has 700 signatures (at time of writing), and is addressed to Vice Chancellor, Charlie Jefferey. The petition can be accessed here.

The petition argues that ‘if anything do students not deserve the higher grades due to the current circumstances and how difficult it has been. Even for lecturers to have had to adapt to this hard time and still get their students amazing results, only for points to be deducted.’

It continues by stating that ‘this again reflects the lack of care for the students, especially after our refused safety net, and I thought it right for you to know. It begs the question why set exams if they are to change our grade regardless or why not put measures in place so we do not face this disappointment? We should not be losing 10 per cent of our mark for any module on any course.’

The following images are taken from the emails sent out from the Department of Computer Science on February 11, which explains the rescaling to students.

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The email in question demonstrates the extent to which the downward rescaling will affect students within these departments, stating that ‘we have applied a scaling that reduces the number of distinction level marks to 25 per cent, and the number of first class marks to 50 per cent.’

The email states that ‘the current situation’ is to blame for the implementation of these measures, ‘not because of [the assessments’] intrinsic difficulty’. As a result of the on-going pandemic, the department ‘expects to scale some assessments up, and others down’. It is assumed that grades will be scaled downwards if marks this year are considerably higher than past years. In response to this, the petition states ‘it can be argued that everyone did better due to not going out partying, and they actually studied harder. Therefore, is it not just hard enough for students to do home learning and have no debate and discussion, still achieve firsts, while paying full university prices for little university experience, yet also now get marks deducted.’

Nouse contacted the University to investigate the issue of downward rescaling. We asked the University whether they do plan to scale marks down by 10 per cent, whether students can be confident that the grades they receive will not be altered in any way and will be marked as they would any other year, and finally we asked for a response to the petition in general. In response, the University said:

"The University has no intention to move marks downward across the institution. As part of our quality assurance process we have always reviewed grades to ensure that they reflect the achievements of the students."

This statement may seem to suggest that the University is not downwardly rescaling assessments. However, it does also suggest that specific departments will be doing so, as departments such as Computer Science will, as they won’t be implementing it ‘across the institution’ and only within specific departments.

YUSU Academic Officer, Matt Johnstone pointed out on his social media yesterday that “scaling at the University isn’t about fitting a lovely normal distribution of results but is about making sure assessments weren’t set at too high or too low a level in a particular year.”

This, however does not take into account the variety of ways that assessments have been changed for many during the Covid-19 pandemic due to the amount of content missed, meaning that arguably, academic integrity cannot be maintained by merely scaling due to the enormous changes made to degrees.

In response to the planned rescaling, YUSU Academic Officer, Matt Johnstone, told Nouse:

“YUSU is talking to the University to understand how this apparent scaling happened. A linear scaling shift is not appropriate and is frankly unfair.”

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