An Item Response Theory approach to the maintenance of standards in public examinations in England

Every year outcomes from public examinations in the UK rise: politicians congratulate pupils on their hard earned achievement; the media questions whether this achievement is real; those responsible for administrating the examinations defend their standards; various subject councils and employers decry the failings of candidates with high grades; admissions officers from the elite universities report their struggle with the decrease in discrimination in grades achieved; and academics debate what it means to compare standards from one year to the next. The debate cannot be easily resolved because examination results are put to many purposes some of which are more suited to certain definitions of comparability than others. In procedural terms, however, it should be relatively straightforward to evaluate the strength of the evidence that is put forward on the comparability of standards against various definitions.

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