An algorithm shouldn’t decide a student’s future

Hye Jung Han at Politico: “…Education systems across Europe struggled this year with how to determine students’ all-important final grades. But one system, the International Baccalaureate (“IB”) — a high school program that is highly regarded by European universities, and offered by both public and private schools in 152 countries — did something unusual.

Having canceled final exams, which make up the majority of an IB student’s grade, the Geneva-based foundation of the same name hastily built an algorithm that used a student’s coursework scores, predicted grades by teachers and their school’s historical IB results to guess what students might have scored if they had taken their exams in a hypothetical, pandemic-free year. The result of the algorithm became the student’s final grade.

The results were catastrophic. Soon after the grades were released, serious mismatches emerged between expected grades based on a student’s prior performance, and those awarded by the algorithm. Because IB students’ university admissions are contingent upon their final grades, the unexpectedly poor grades generated for some resulted in scholarships and admissions offers being revoked

The IB had alternatives. Instead, it could have used students’ actual academic performance and graded on a generous curve. It could have incorporated practice test grades, third-party moderation to minimize grading bias and teachers’ broad evaluations of student progress.

It could have engaged with universities on flexibly factoring in final grades into this year’s admissions decisions, as universities contemplate opening their now-virtual classes to more students to replace lost revenue.

It increasingly seems like the greatest potential of the power promised by predictive data lies in the realm of misuse.

For this year’s graduating class, who have already responded with grace and resilience in their final year of school, the automating away of their capacity and potential is an unfair and unwanted preview of the world they are graduating into….(More)”.