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Setting and maintaining standards: criteria, compensation and statistics Ian Stockford Head of Research. A Level Qualifications. Compensatory v Mastery

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Setting and maintaining standards: criteria, compensation and statisticsIan StockfordHead of Research

a level qualifications
A Level Qualifications

Compensatory v Mastery

  • No strong criteria candidates must meet. Candidates do not necessarily need to demonstrate mastery across all areas of the specification
  • Candidates perform in unpredictable and varied ways
  • Specific claims that “if a candidate got a grade A it means they can…” are problematic

The purpose of A-levels

In relation to university selection, A levels must constitute more than a simple means of ranking students to help university admissions authorities choose between applicants. They must also ensure that students have acquired any specific skills and knowledge that they need in order to embark on their chosen degree course or profession.

Ofqual, A-level reform consultation, 2013

the awarding process
The awarding process

Qualitative examiner judgement

  • All judgements are made at grades A and E only
  • Examiners scrutinise scripts that fall on and around the judgemental grade

boundaries suggested by the statistical evidence

  • Reference to archived scripts and grade descriptors

Challenges to qualitative judgement

  • Imbalanced scripts
  • Variations in demand

Good and CresswellBritish Educational Research Journal, 14(3), 263-28, 1988

  • Benefit of the doubt to the candidates
  • Various other contextual/bias effects
  • Not a reflection of the capability/professionalism of examiners!
statistical evidence
Statistical Evidence

Support provided to guide the judgements of examiners

Predictive used:

  • Prior attainment of candidates – based on mean GCSE
  • Common centres analyses
  • Item Response Theory based test equating

Alignment of standards:

  • Between awarding bodies (common basis of prediction)
  • Between specifications (intra-awarding body)
  • Over time (prediction generated from previous outcomes)
  • Regulated based primarily on statistical evidence

Potentially vital in managing transitions between assessment structures

changing times
Changing times…

Removal of the January examinations series

  • Essentially removes the opportunity for resitting at A2

What does resitting provide?

  • Provides the opportunity for candidates who haven’t done themselves justice in their first sitting to better represent their true ability
  • Provides the opportunity for candidates to opportunistically sample assessment noise inherent when sampling a wide domain

Wheadon and Stockford, Ofqual Reliability Programme, 2010

Candidates certificating in summer 2014 have had the advantage of being able to resit removed

  • Potentially disadvantaged by the happenstance of the timing of their birth

Maintain performance standards or maintain outcomes…?

managing the risk
Managing the risk

Maintain Performance Standards

Maintain (Contextualised) Outcomes

  • Seemingly fits with the purpose of ensuring that students have the appropriate skills
  • Retains the integrity of the A-level in terms of demonstrated performance
  • Impact on outcomes is unknown
  • Different impact across different subjects
  • Knock-on consequences for HE difficult to predict
  • Relies heavily on judgement
  • Protects candidates against disadvantage introduced by a change in the ‘rules’
  • Realises a rank order of proficiency for selection purposes with a predictable number of candidates receiving each grade
  • Performance standards will likely need to be lowered to maintain outcomes
  • Different across subjects
  • Publically defensible?
in summary
In summary…

The grading of A-levels is not reliant of the ability of candidates to meet a set of performance criteria

Grade boundary setting using a combination of judgement and statistics although the challenges facing the use of judgement are significant

Whilst is has a role, the process of setting grade boundaries (and therefore controlling outcomes) is not an appropriate mechanism by which to drive increased competency/knowledge/skills of students

…this must be addressed over a longer period through increased content standards driving teaching and learning

Frequent reforms to the structure of qualifications drives in risk to the system. Comms between awarding organisations, the regulator, HE and the wider public are vital.