Secondary School External Examination Systems: Reliability, Robustness and Resilience

by Barend Vlaardingerbroek and Neil Taylor

Description

Summative assessment has been a contentious issue in educational circles for several decades, particularly high-stakes assessment events which arise at various junctures of the school cycle, especially those at the end of it. The French Baccalauréat and English A-Levels and their numerous clones throughout the francophone and anglophone worlds are household names and represent milestone events in people’s lives, as their outcomes are principal determinants of young people’s future prospects. These examinations are external––they are devised, conducted and processed by agencies outside the schools, usually ministerial examination units. As such, they act as ‘blind’ arbiters of student achievement, providing the proverbial ‘level playing field’ which ensures the comparability of outcomes.

In the pyramidal school structures of yesteryear, examinations acted as filters, regulating the progression of pupils to subsequent tiers of formal education. Exit points occurred from primary school level up, from where unsuccessful candidates could enter the labour force and/or embark on occupationally specific further education and training. With the modernisation of the labour market and an ever-higher social demand for access to higher levels of formal education, the filtering function of examinations at lower levels of schooling has been gradually eroded, while burgeoning numbers of students at the upper secondary level have brought about reforms that include curricular diversification and sometimes radical overhauls of terminating assessment systems (including the modification and, in some instances, abandonment of external examinations).

This edited volume brings together the experiences of twenty examination systems from around the world to show how these dynamic entities have adapted over time to the changing context of schooling. Following an introduction by Stephen P. Heyneman of World Bank repute, there are sixteen chapters presenting Country Case Studies, which have been written up under common subheadings, thereby highlighting the comparative nature of the work and facilitating cross-referencing. The subsequent four chapters elaborate on the theme of ‘external examinations beyond national borders’, including a contribution by the International Baccalaureate Organisation.

A defining feature of the work is the attention it pays to what it calls the ‘nuts and bolts’ of external examinations, from question-setting to grading procedures. These are, it is argued, instrumental in nurturing and maintaining public confidence in external examinations.

The book will be of immense value to people involved in educational policy studies, especially strategic educational planning, as well as those directly concerned with formal assessment. The work has been written to appeal to a wide audience of informed persons––it is accessible to teachers and interested laypeople, as well as to academics.



 

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