Do finals stats really tell us anything?

What do the recent stats about Finals really tell us?

I have to say, I don’t agree with the recent news that described the effects of race and disability on exam results as “shocking.” As far as I’m concerned it almost goes without saying that a non-disabled native English student is going to have a much easier time with exams than a dyslexic candidate, or one who’s taking exams with English as a second language.

Aside from anything else, the statistics don’t show where the inferior numbers of black and Asian students getting firsts are coming from. “Asian” doesn’t define whether the candidate in question was born in England to Asian parents – and is therefore probably just as accomplished an English speaker as Nick Griffin, only without the odious personality – or came to the University as an international student with only a few years of English language-learning under their belt.

The stats revealed that whilst 32% of all white students get a first, just 16% of Chinese and 18% of Black students achieve the same success.

The fact is that when the statistics speak of “white” students they are demonstrably more likely to be referring to white, native English speakers than the “Asian” or “black” group.  The statistic I’d be far more interested to see would be how the native English-speaking students fared against those who spoke English as a second language, since from where I’m sitting that has more of an effect on a student’s exam performance than their skin colour. The article admits-without-admitting that language barrier as the more burning issue by quoting an international student reacting to the statistics.

As for disability, I’m speaking from a slightly more experienced position. Being about as white and English as it’s possible to get, I feel a little nervous diving into a race-related debate. But I am eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowances and last year in Prelims I had special exam arrangements for my diagnosed dyspraxia, so I have a little more of an insider’s track on this. My own “disability”, not that I like to consider it one, is fairly unthreatening in an exam situation – instead of writing my scripts by hand, I write them up on word processor because my handwriting is illegible, and the effort of trying to make it less so has a detrimental effect on my performance.

It was also shown that just 22% of students with disabilities achieved a first.

With a word processor I can think and write (so to speak) in the same way as normal. When I inevitably perform rubbishly, well, it’s because I’m rubbish. But there are other, more complicated disabilities which can’t just be fixed by giving a student a computer. Particularly in the field of stress-related disabilities, it’s no wonder that some disabled students don’t perform as well as they could.

As for female students performing less well than male ones last year? Maybe, just maybe, last year the male students just happened to do better than their female counterparts? Maybe that’s not down to discrimination so much as a not-particularly-interesting difference in the way two arbitrarily “different” groups performed in their exams? We might as well have compared how blue-eyed and brown-eyed people fared.