It seems like a very long time since A Levels were the Gold Standard of school achievement. Now, each successive year's increase in grade inflation signals a further slump in quality.
So how bad is the damage? Yesterday the Sunday Times headlined "A-levels have got two grades less difficult" over their report of a study done for the Office of National Statistics by Durham University’s curriculum, evaluation and management centre.
The study is here. Its approach is to compare the A Level performance of pupils with the same pupils' performance in a standardised test of academic ability known as ITDA (International Test of Developed Academic Ability). The data has been collected every year since 1988, and currently covers 1400 schools (NB from 2002 the test became the TDA: see study p5).
The key chart shows the average A Level grade achieved each year by pupils with the same ITDA score:
Thus, for English Lit, pupils with the same ITDA score are now getting an A Level over one grade higher, and for Biology, nearly two grades higher. For Maths, the increase is an astonishing three and a half grades. Overall, the change is about two grades, as reported.
"A level grades achieved in 2006 certainly do correspond to a lower level of general academic ability than the same grades would have done in previous years. Whether or not they are better taught makes no difference to this interpretation; the same grade corresponds to a lower level of general ability."
But one group of people most assuredly are not worried, and they're the guys who preside over the government's exam quality ahem "assurance" quango.
"Surely the standards debate is tired and stale now? It's only the rightwing fringes that want to return to norm-referencing [which limits the number of passes] and fail 95% of kids so the rest can be seen as achieving. Standards have risen, and there is no doubt about that."
Dr Boston is Australian, and came to QCA job after resigning from an education administration post in New South Wales. He came fully equipped with all the old left-wing social engineering baggage, the "inclusivity" agenda in place of what he dismisses as education as a "positional good" (see here).
Grind your teeth. Ask yourself why we're forced to pay his wages. And ask yourself why we ever let our politicians run our exam system in the first place.