Thursday, August 10, 2006

Do the maths...

Well, the SQA results duly came out on Tuesday and I have to say there didn't seem to be too much of a fuss made about them by the media. Most went mainly for the human interest angle, following some pupil somewhere as they opened their envelope to find out their results - though I do wonder: have the schools in question "spilled the beans" in advance to the press, guaranteeing a decent set of results for the kid in question? It can be done... and if it is, what's the legality - to say nothing of the morality - of such practice?

Anyway, the only other thing they fixed on was that the pass rate for Higher English has fallen by a couple of percent (can't recall exact figures offhand, but somewhere in the 60%s). This was put down to a tricky exam, but it does strike me as odd that no-one ever takes a more considered view of such a statistic. For a start: how many people actually sat the exam? Was it more than last year, in which case in theory it's possible for more people to have passed Higher English than before? After all, many pupils do sit the exam against all professional advice, at the express wish of their parents. How many? Difficult to say, but at a rough guess, I'd say that easily two-thirds of those who failed will have been expected so to do.

I haven't seen any comment on Maths results (perhaps tomorrow's TES will oblige?), so I don't yet have a fix on how my school's results compare with elsewhere. Everyone knows that you get "good" and "bad" year groups, of course, but that doesn't count as an excuse to the powers that be, and newspapers like The Scotsman are still publishing "league tables" based on results.

Still, at least as a mathematician you can get away with waffling on about means, medians, sample sizes, confidence intervals etc etc and hope that you don't get found out. It's worked so far...

(At this point I can't help but repeat an anecdote I once heard about a Headteacher demanding to know of a particular PT why more pupils hadn't got above the average mark...!)

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