Are examination standards all in the head? Experiments with examiners’ judgements of standards in A level examinations
Examination grading decisions are commonplace in our education system and many of them have a substantial impact upon candidates’ lives, yet little is known about the decision-making processes involved in judging standards.
In A-level examinations, judgements of standards are detached from the marking process. Candidates’ work is marked according to a marking scheme and then grade boundary marks are judged on each examination paper, to set the standard for that examination. Thus the marking process is fairly well specified, since the marking scheme makes explicit most of the features of candidates’ work that are credit-worthy.
Judging standards is more difficult than marking because standards are intended to be independent of the difficulty of the particular examination paper. That is, candidates who sit the examination in one year should have the same standard applied to their work as those who sat the examinations in previous years (even though the marks may differ, the grade boundaries should compensate for any changes in the difficulty of the examination). Note that if the marking and standards judgement tasks are not detached, and grading is done directly, the problems inherent in standards judgements are still present, although they may not be as obvious to the decision maker.