Principles of standard setting
By Lesley Meyer
All awarding organisations offering general, curriculum embedded qualifications carry out standard setting. Put succinctly, this is the process of establishing one or more grade boundaries for an examination, which divide the distribution of candidates test performances into two or more categories: Pass/Fail; grade A through to grade E; grade A* through to grade G etc., depending on the type of specification involved.
In ongoing examinations, the aim is to maintain standards between years, between awarding organisations and between subjects, generally in that order. Awarding organisations have to ensure that comparable examinations have the same standards.
There is a defined Code of Practice for GCSE, GCE and AEA, written by the examination regulators to promote quality, consistency, accuracy and fairness in the standard setting process. Nevertheless, there is debate each summer about public examination standards. Looking at the principles behind the standard setting process gives some indication as to why this is the case - things are not as straightforward as might be assumed.