Standards in national examinations: what do they mean?

Processes of standard setting and maintaining within curriculum-related assessments form a key strand of educational assessment policies and programmes, and debates about standards are often at the heart of educational reform. Many countries use curriculum-related examinations to select learners for higher education, work and other study options. Some countries also use these examinations as tools to measure school system performance. Given the high stakes nature of these examinations, it is surprising that the ways in which examination standards are conceptualised and operationalised differently across nations has not been given sufficient attention. This is an interesting area because globalisation has begun to impinge on examination systems, but public examination standards are still largely a bastion of the local. The meaning of standards varies between countries and the stated value positions and processes relating to examination standards differ markedly. Additionally, the processes used to set examination standards vary greatly between countries.

The public seminar will present some of the findings from a joint project on Setting and Maintaining standards in national examinations. As part of the project, a three-day symposium was held in Brasenose College, Oxford in March of this year. Experts from around the world came together to discuss the setting and maintaining of standards in national examinations. The project aims to illuminate similarities and differences in conceptual bases and operational approaches to examination standards. In this presentation, we will focus upon the different ways in which examination standards have been defined and outline current work on an ecological model that shows promise in making the current literature more coherent.