Processes of setting national examination standards vary in different countries and within the same country over time. The dominant model for assessment practice internationally is psychometrics, but there is a long history of its rejection in many examining systems and there are good reasons for this (Baird and Black, 2013). However, globalisation drives standardisation and in many nations there are pressures to impose particular understandings of educational attainment, based on “evidence” about other systems’ practices and their effects. Arguments for major changes in standard setting and maintaining systems can be based upon tenuous links. The under-articulation of the rationales for current examination practices means that they are vulnerable to changes that could be detrimental to the character of education systems. Little to no conversation takes place between the different systems that are pushed towards standardization. Moreover, the lack of a clear theoretical definition of assessment practices and standards leads to problems in their public understanding, which frequently results in crises in public confidence.
Professor Jo-Anne Baird (Oxford University), Dr. Lena Gray (AQA), Dennis Opposs (Ofqual) and Dr. Tina Isaacs (UCL) comprise the editorial board of an international project that aims to describe the processes used to set or to maintain (or link over time) standards in national high-school leaving or university entrance examinations and to explore the concepts relating to standards behind them.
Dr. Lena Gray and Professor Jo-Anne Baird have published the paper The meaning of curriculum-related examination standards in Scotland and England: a home–international comparison, in the Oxford Review of Education, setting out the differences in the ways standards are perceived and enacted in Scotland and England. Dr Gray and Prof Baird were also successful in their bid for a Knowledge Exchange Grant from the Social Sciences Division at the University of Oxford, facilitating a more effective cooperation between the research and practitioner communities. The project has furthermore been presented at the AEA-Europe conference in Limassol and the IAEA conference in Cape Town.
The editorial board has worked with examination practitioners and academics from a wide variety of jurisdictions, who have prepared papers for a three-day symposium to be held in Oxford in March 2017. It is planned to further develop these symposium contributions into a book and the special issue of an assessment journal.
The project will generate important and new comparative insights into assessment practices used across the world. Through the organisation of the symposium and the planned publications this project will make a three-fold contribution; it will facilitate an international conversation about assessment methods and practices, it will promote the exchange of information and knowledge between assessment practitioners and academics, and lastly it will generate new knowledge and make it accessible to a wide audience.