Measuring comparability of standards between subjects: why our statistical techniques do not make the grade

In the past few years the examination boards in Britain have witnessed a renewed interest from external bodies in the notion of comparability of grading standards between different subjects. This interest has stemmed from concern with findings, from statistical techniques for comparison, suggesting that public examinations in different subjects are not comparable. This article focuses on one of these techniques — the Subject‐Pair Analysis — in an attempt to demonstrate that reliance on the statistical comparison of standards between subjects is misplaced. Fundamental assumptions underlying the Subject‐Pair Analysis, and related analyses, are made explicit and then challenged both in principle and from operational data. These techniques cannot be assumed even to approximate a valid representation of ‘the problem’ of between‐subject comparability because they are inappropriate for dealing with the kind of data that our examinations generate.

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