Recently Published: Secondary School External Examination Systems – Reliability, Robustness and Resilience
Barend Vlaardingerbroek (AUB) and Neil Taylor (University of New England, Australia)
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.
Impartial and reliable summative assessment procedures are indispensable in an age of high transition rates to upper secondary schooling and from there to the tertiary education sector. Curriculum-based external examinations which lead to robust secondary school qualifications ensure not only the impartiality and reliability of the assessment process but also enhance academic standards in providing feedback about the effectiveness of teaching and learning, and forge curricular links between secondary and tertiary education. External examinations are expensive entities, but their contribution to the internal and external efficiency of schooling warrants the expense. An understanding of exactly how these examinations work and, most importantly, how they work best, is a crucial step towards maximizing the return on the investment.
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, sixteen chapters present 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 “external examinations beyond national borders,” including a contribution by the International Baccalaureate Organization. The Lebanese brevet and baccalauréat examinations are included under the country case studies.
A defining feature of the work is the attention paid 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 final chapter crystalizes the main themes running through the book. It posits a “Theory of External Examinations” in the guise of an evolutionary sequence.