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September 17, 2015
by Ann Lautrette
3 Comments

If you had a million dollars to make a bet…

How much evidence would you need before you would place it?

I asked this question of Year 13 this morning. It went like this:

– would you place the money on it raining tomorrow?

No one raised their hands.

– what if it rains today, would you place the money?

Still no one.

– what if it rained last Friday, would you make the bet?

No hands.

I asked them why. Turns out one day of rain is not enough evidence to be sure even that it is going to rain tomorrow. It seems that sustained continuous evidence would be needed. In other words, it would have to rain every day for maybe two weeks or more before we might place a million dollars on it.

And yet every year students ask teachers to take this kind of bet on their predicted grades.

Which was really the topic of my talk this morning.

It is completely understandable why students want teachers to predict them highly. Many students dream of the university they want to attend and they are sure that they can start now, put in the extra effort and make that 7 in Higher Level Physics – even though all the data shows that the student has never achieved a 7 so far; or they did, once, on a test where they were allowed to use their notes because they were still learning.

However, sadly, the reality is that it is very unlikely that that student will achieve that 7. By now teachers can predict with 90% accuracy the grades the student will achieve. They base this on a wealth of evidence gathered over the last year and a bit:

  • Performance in both formal and informal assessments designed to test the subject skills since the beginning of Year 12.
  • Any Internal Assessment work completed or in completion
  • The end of year 12 exams (the percentage for each subject, assuming some progression)
  • Work ethic and assumed progress or not
  • Their professional experience and judgement – they know the course, the assessments, how well students do generally given a certain skill set. They know the particular student whose grade they are predicting. They are the experts.

What teachers can not and should not do is base their predicted grades on what a student promises to do in the future. No one would bet a million dollars on something like that.

Knowing that the predicted grades will be locked in on October 8th (University application deadlines being UK – 15th October, US – 1st November) this is the time when students ask questions of teachers:

‘What can I do to be predicted x grade?’

The honest answer here is, nothing. Since making an accurate prediction takes sustained evidence all the work for the predicted grade has already been done.

‘I need to be predicted a x to go to y university.’

This isn’t really true. In fact a student needs to achieve grade x. Predictions might get an offer of a place, but if you don’t achieve the grades, you aren’t going to be going there.

In the end, if teachers don’t predict accurately it is the student who suffers. Imagine two scenarios:

1.

Your data suggests 36 points.

You plead and beg teachers for predictions for the university of your dreams.

Each teacher is slightly generous and predicts 1 point above.   

You get an offer of 42 points.

To be on the safe side you take an insurance at 38 points.

You score 36 points.

You now have no university place.

2. 

Your data suggests 36 points

Teachers predict 36 points

You get a uni offer at 36 points and a backup at 34.

You get 36 points

You enter your 1st choice university, fit there and are a happy summer camper!

In the end, we all want to help students to achieve the best that they can, but we all have to be realistic about what we expect them to achieve. If we aren’t, the consequences for the student are missing university offers and spending the summer in a state of panic.

The big take-aways from this morning were:

  • For your sake and the reputation of the school (which affects all current and future students) predictions need 90% accuracy.
  • Teachers know how to predict grades accurately – take what they tell you.
  • An offer is not a confirmed place.
  • We don’t have a magic wand – we can’t make universities take students who miss offers.
  • Be realistic – you’ll be happier.

While this is pertinent to Year 13 at the moment, I would add something for Year 12:

You will be in this position next year. If you intend to be predicted x points, it is everything you do from now which counts. Suddenly working hard in Year 13 is not going to work. Consistent, sustained effort is the key. 

 

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