If a fair society wanted to design a standardised exam which all of its students would sit it might look like this.
There would probably be a minimum standard, the basic level that you expect all students to reach. These would be the very minimum expectations of any independent citizen, of the things that they would need to be able to function in society. In part, these exams would be held in order to check that all students were being taught in a way that enabled them to reach that level.
This level is no absolute, and would discussed and decided upon by any given society. But it would presumably involve a level of numeracy, literacy, knowledge of science and history. Almost everyone would be able to reach this level of general proficiency. The education system would ensure that as many people as possible reach at least that level. There would be continuing support to enable people to reach that level if they haven’t reached it by the date of their exams. The exam would function to ensure that citizens were being properly equipped for independent life by the education system. The only consequence of failure would be the availability of more support to enable a student to pass.
If a society run in the interest of business owners wanted to design a standardised exam which all of its students would sit it might look like this.
There would be no minimum standard. The exams would not be about ensuring that students were equipped to enter society as independent citizens.
Grades would be norm referenced. The top few per cent would be given the top grade, and so on. The grades wouldn’t represent a standard met; they would represent a position with regard to a student’s peers. This exam would be a way of sorting the year. Some for A levels and then University, off to do white collar work of varying types; some for good honest apprenticeships and a life of manual work; some with grades too bad for any sort of work.
In a norm-referenced system there always have to be some failures. However well those students do in their exams a pre-determined percentage of the cohort has to fail and therefore be unable to find decent work in the future. Why? Because we ensure that there will always be unemployed people in the economy in order to put downward pressure on wages and to enable employers to hire and fire seasonable work at the lowest possible cost to themselves. Someone needs to fulfil this role and the exams help society to identify who it will be. This system is about making recruitment quicker and easier for employers.
When a set number of students are required to fail each year it should be clear that this will disproportionately affect students with learning disabilities. Instead of the system working to enable these people to live independent lives in society, it works to identify them early and then send them home with a certificate proving that they’ll be the least useful members of society to future employers.
In the business owners’ society there are always failures and they will be reminded of their failure every day; in a fair society no one need fail, and society would work to ensure that as many people as possible can be intellectually independent.