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Topic: Tests fail to give true grades
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Tests fail to give true grades
Posted: Jul 7, 2000 1:07 PM
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From the Electronic Telegraph [UK News Summary], Thursday, July 6, 2000. See
. Thanks to Victor Steinbok for bringing this article to our

A-levels 'fail to give true grades'

By John Clare, Education Editor

A-LEVELS are so unreliable that half the candidates who ought to be
awarded the top grades that would secure them places at the best
universities are denied them, a new study has shown.

Prof Dylan Wiliam, of King's College, London, found that 53 per cent
of those who should be awarded three A grades are given one or two
grades lower, sufficient to lose them places at Oxford,
Cambridge and most medical schools.

Similarly, 49 per cent of those who deserve two As and a B are
downgraded, although 12 per cent are given a grade higher than they
merit. Among those who ought to be awarded three Bs - the cut off
point for most courses at good universities - 45 per cent are given
lower grades and 22 per cent higher grades.

Prof Wiliam, who is one of the leading experts in educational
assessment, said the unreliability of A-levels was caused by three
factors. He said: "The first is the inconsistency of candidates -
they have good days and bad days, and an individual's score on the
same test can vary from day to day.

"The second is the inconsistency of markers, who sometimes disagree
about the value of an answer. The third, and perhaps least
acknowledged, source of unreliability is in the choice of questions.
Since A-level papers are produced anew each year, candidates can be
advantaged or disadvantaged by the particular choice of items in the
papers they sit."

Having assigned a numerical value to each of the three factors, Prof
Wiliam then ran a large-scale simulation of their impact by comparing
candidates' actual grades with their "true" grades.

A true grade was the long-run average score that a candidate might be
expected to achieve over repeated examinations in the subject. The
findings support those who argue that A-levels need to be
supplemented by other tests to identify real merit.

26 June 2000: Universities urged to end exam-based selection -- See
22 June 2000: Low-scoring state pupils 'favoured by universities' -- See
21 May 2000: Exam challengers risk lower grades -- See
1 May 2000: Harder A-level test in maths will scare off pupils, says
head -- See
30 April 2000: 'Too easy' maths A-level to be made more difficult -- See
3 January 2000: Maths exam marked too harshly, say advisers -- See
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)


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