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Inter-subject comparability Dennis Opposs SQA Seminar, Glasgow 28 February 2013 BUSINESS FILM ENGLISH BIOLOGY MUSIC GERMAN Psychology, law and media studies: the scandalous routes to A-grade success By Richard Garner, Education Editor, Independent Thursday, 14 August 2003
It is the "hidden scandal" of A-levels, the leader of one head teachers' union said last night. Shrewd pupils, aided by their teachers, are opting for "easier" subjects where they know they will stand a better chance of getting an A-grade pass. It is incredibly worrying said Mr Dunford. We need more maths, science and modern language students. It is totally bizarre that these are the hardest subjects at A -level. This is causing a vicious circle. It has been shown statistically that psychology is an easier exam than maths at A-level. Part of the remit of the Tomlinson committee should be to make sure all subjects are of a comparable standard. Mr Dunford was accused last night of putting a different twist on the A-levels are easier row, denigrating the achievements of the 250,000 or so youngsters who will be receiving results today. In fact, he was just being honest. He pointed out that universities do not demand that A-level passes are in the subject to be studied
at degree level and teachers are therefore giving their students the best chance of success by suggesting subject options which they consider easier to pass. His comments were seized on by the Conservatives. Damian Green, the shadow Education Secretary, said: We need to ensure every A-level subject is regarded as of equal academic value and equally different J.M. Crofts view of inter-subject comparability, 1928 In a large examination is there any reason for thinking that the candidate who is this 90th percentile in Mathematics has a better brain, is a more capable scholar, is a better subject for the award of a scholarship than the candidate who occupies that position in English, or, for the matter of that, in any other subject? There is no evidence whatever in favour of this; the case cannot be proved one way or the other, and it would be unwarrantable to assume that any difference does exist.
Crofts, J.M. & Caradog Jones, D. (1928). Secondary School Examination Statistics. London: Longmans, Green and co. Relation of severity of standard relative to other JMB A level subjects in 1973 to change in popularity since 1966 Share down Severity Share up Severity Stable Severity
Greek 0.8 English Literature -0.5 Spanish 0.0 Latin 0.8 Geography
-0.6 History 0.0 German 0.3 Economics -0.5 Religious Knowledge -0.5
French 0.3 British Constitution -0.5 Physics 0.5 Further Maths 1.1 Geology
-0.8 Chemistry -0.1 Maths 0.6 Biology 0.2 Art -1.1
Music -1.4 Geometrical & Engineering Drawing -0.7 Domestic Science (The Home, the Family and Society) 0.0 Pure Maths 0.5
Pure Maths with Statistics 1.0 Christie, T & Forrest, G.M. (1981). Defining Public Examinations Standards. MacMillan Education Ltd. 16 year olds achieving grades A* - C in English 2012 Total English 394,400 Mathematics
410,000 Source: Department for Education GCSE subject criteria for English language Grade Description A Candidates writing shows confident, assured control of a range of forms and styles appropriate to task and purpose. A wide range of accurate sentence structures ensures clarity; choices of vocabulary, punctuation and spelling are ambitious, imaginative and correct. F Candidates writing shows some adaptation of form and style for
different tasks and purposes. Paragraphing is straightforward but effective; the structure of sentences, including some that are complex, is usually correct. Spelling and basic punctuation are mostly accurate. GCSE subject criteria for mathematics Grade Description A Learners use a wide range of mathematical techniques, terminology, diagrams and symbols consistently, appropriately and accurately. Learners are able to use different representations effectively and they recognise equivalent representations; for example numerical, graphical and algebraic representations. F Learners use some mathematical techniques, terminology,
diagrams and symbols from the foundation tier consistently, appropriately and accurately. Learners use some different representations effectively and can select information from them. Comparing English and mathematics Is English more severely graded? Is teaching better in mathematics? Is mathematics more motivating? Do pupils work harder in mathematics? Are results in mathematics better due to early entry? 16 year olds achieving grades A* - C in English 2012 Boys Girls
Total English 178,400 215,900 394,400 Mathematics 207,000 203,100 410,000
2011 Boys Girls Total English 196,000 231,000 427,100 Mathematics
198,000 195,500 393,600 Source: Department for Education 11 year olds achieving level 4 or above 86 85 84 83 82 81 80 % at level 4 or above English
% at level 4 or above Mathematics 79 78 77 76 75 74 73 72 2002 2003 2004 2005
2006 2007 2008 Source: Department for Education, England 2009 2010 2011 2012 George Bruces view of inter-subject comparability, 1969
Each subject has its own special characteristics; in Art the entry is highly selective, in Mathematics the dearth of teachers may be reflected in the results  These or some other special features relate to almost every subject and justify deviations from [the same percentage pass-rate]. If it seems unfair that candidates should suffer from teaching deficiencies, it is impossible to see how this can be avoided. Bruce, G. (1969). Secondary school examinations. London: Pergamon Press. The NFERs view of inter-subject comparability, 1974 We  do not expect an individual candidate to achieve the same grade in every subject that he takes. However, we can see no logical reason why, if a large group of candidates representative of the population took, for example, both English and mathematics, their average grades should not be the same.  there is no reason to suppose that the candidates as a whole would not try equally
hard in both subjects. There is also no reason to suppose  that their teachers in one subject are better than their teachers in the other. Nuttall, D.L., Backhouse, J.K. & Willmott, A.S. (1974). Comparability of standards between subjects. London: Schools Council. Robert Woods view of inter-subject comparability, 1976  the suggestion that standards in different subjects ought also to be comparable [is a] lunatic idea. The only way standards might be equated is through some external statistical intervention except that there is no [valid] statistical adjustment . In any case, I cannot see examiners, candidates or the public tolerating fudging of grades to make them conform to a statistical model dreamed up by researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research. Wood, R. (1976). Your chemistry equals my French. Letter to The Times Educational Supplement.
Available approaches: statistical Subject pairs analysis Common examinee methods Available approaches: statistical Subject pairs analysis Common examinee methods Kellys method Average marks scaling Available approaches: statistical Subject pairs analysis Common examinee methods Kellys method Average marks scaling Rasch method
Available approaches: statistical Subject pairs analysis Common examinee methods Kellys method Average marks scaling Rasch method Reference tests Available approaches: statistical Subject pairs analysis Common examinee methods Kellys method Average marks scaling Rasch method Reference tests Value added models Difficulty of A level subjects, using
correction factors Carol Fitz-Gibbon & Luke Vincents view of inter-subject comparability, 1996 Whilst we cannot rule out a widespread failure of teachers in mathematics, science and foreign languages, one not shared by teachers in sociology and other easier subjects, we find it an offensive proposition to the teaching profession and highly unlikely that this applies throughout all the datasets we are encountering. Fitz-Gibbon, C.T. & Vincent, L. (1996). Difficulties regarding subject difficulties: developing reasonable explanations for observable data. Oxford Review of Education, 23(3), 291-298. Issues with statistical approaches Cyprus Issues with statistical approaches Cyprus
Western Australia Issues with statistical approaches Cyprus Western Australia Singapore Relative difficulties in Singapore and England Pollitt, A in Newton et al (2007). Techniques for Monitoring the Comparability of Examination Standards. London: QCA Available approaches: qualitative QCA study Available approaches: qualitative QCA study
What action could Ofqual take? Carry on Publish tariffs SQA National Ratings: Higher 2008 Chemistry -0.29 History 0.08 Physics -0.27
Geography 0.14 Mathematics -0.22 French 0.26 English -0.22 Spanish
0.27 Biology -0.20 Music 0.72 Latin -0.19 Art & Design 0.75
Source: Scottish Qualifications Authority Alton, A & Pearson, S (1996). Statistical approaches to inter-subject comparability. Report for the Joint forum for the GCSE and GCE Alton, A & Pearson, S (1996). Statistical approaches to inter-subject comparability. Report for the Joint forum for the GCSE and GCE English literature Before adjustment To align with 0 To align with physics Grade AEB
AEB AEB A 15.0 10.1 5.0 E 95.7 90.8
79.7 Physics Before adjustment To align with 0 Grade AEB AEB A 16.8 26.6
E 74.8 83.9 Alton, A & Pearson, S (1996). Statistical approaches to inter-subject comparability. Report for the Joint forum for the GCSE and GCE Raw and revised outcomes for the modelled AQA A levels Raw A Level Revised A Level Difference A
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