The science and statistics behind examinations is not widely publicised or understood. This is, at least in part, due to the dry, complex and often esoteric nature of the topic. But a lack of transparency may lead to a lack of trust, and the grades students receive have limited value without trust. A lack of transparency can also compromise the validity of the assessment, where misunderstandings fuel unintended damage to educational practice. The challenge then, for the assessment expert, is to make this all more accessible and engaging.
Support comes from an unlikely source – reality TV. Many popular programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor, Masterchef and the Great British Bake-Off involve judging an individual’s ability to perform some sort of task. This is the very essence of assessment. Of course, the purpose of these programmes is to entertain, and so they quite rightly prioritise audience experience over robust assessment practices.
No provider of high-stakes examinations would be able to defend using a public vote to decide students’ results! However, the limitations of these programmes can be helpful to us, serving as vehicles for illustrating some of the issues that can arise when assessments are not appropriately designed.