Designing an ideal test for global competency

Designing an ideal test for global competency

India’s education system has a problem: global companies would sooner hire graduates from foreign universities than those from India, according to new research.

The India Employability Survey 2014, released by the British Council, found that graduates from foreign universities (39 per cent) are considered better prepared and require less training than those from Indian institutions (14 per cent). The survey of 200 foreign and Indian companies highlights the fact that an internationally respected education system is a crucial factor in India’s ability to compete on the world stage.

Indeed the perceived integrity of educational assessment practices is vital for India’s education system, national economy, and international image. For without credibility, qualifications are of little value and the respect allotted by other countries to the qualifications earned through an entire nation’s education system can be affected significantly. Focusing on the way exams are developed — and especially on the integrity of those exams — could provide a further boost to India’s global reputation.

India is emerging as a knowledge-based economy and human capital is becoming its major strength. Yet only one in 10 of 17-23 year olds are in the higher education system, according to a PwC survey, highlighting the severe inadequacies of India’s infrastructure for the delivery of education. This highlights the need for upgrading the educational infrastructure to optimise India’s potential in today’s globalised, knowledge-driven world.

The growing importance of knowledge as a commodity and the rapid pace of technological advancements, along with globalisation and the increasing significance of qualifications, require an educational assessment process that promotes meritocracy. Test providers must work to design and build exams according to industry best practices that are valid, reliable and fair.

Meaningful inferences

Validity means the inferences made from test scores are meaningful, reflecting critical aspects of relevant knowledge or skills. For example, doing well on a university admissions test should mean someone is more likely to do well at university. Reliability refers to consistency and reproducibility,  and a fair exam is one that is equitable for all test takers regardless of their background or social status. Exam scores should be equivalent for test takers who have an equivalent ability level.

Modern-day test-sponsors have many tools at their disposal to develop and deliver exams that are valid, reliable, and fair. These include modern-day measurement science and computer-based testing (CBT). Test development requires not only subject expertise, but expertise in measurement and test development. This is where measurement experts known as psychometricians can assist subject matter experts in designing and constructing tests.
Question difficulty is measured by the proportion of test takers who are able to provide the right answer. Question discrimination gauges how well the question distinguishes between test takers. Test equating enables test results to be comparable across time and across different versions of the examination. This is an important process for increasing the reliability and fairness of exams. For example in a medical exam, a doctor should not be able to pass simply because the version of the exam he or she took was easier than other versions. Psychometricians also work with test sponsors to establish a passing standard reflecting the required competence necessary to meet the exam’s purpose.

Fair testing

Many organisations sponsoring high-stakes exams across the world have shifted  to CBT. We have seen a record number of new contracts with clients developing and launching major CBT programmes across India. The trend is continuing into 2014 with additional new client partnership announcements coming up. CBT also eases the administrative burdens encountered by test sponsors as it does not have to be physically shipped. And people who are unable to take the test in a city centre on a particular day have the opportunity to visit a local CBT centre as exams are made available on-demand throughout the year or at pre-determined blocks of time.

Exam security is vital to fairness. In a CBT environment, exams can be constructed in a way that all batches of test teakers receive different questions. Measurement science ensures that every test taker receives a fair exam. The test equating process is used so that the exam result is determined by the ability level of test takers, and not by the version of the exam they receive. Some test sponsors opt for the cheaper option of ignoring psychometric processes, but this is risky in terms of security and candidate fairness.

India’s education, assessment and professional qualification systems must prepare to continuously meet the human capital demands of today’s globalised knowledge-based economy. CBT has become the benchmark delivery method for high-stakes exams. The flexibility and ease of access provided by CBT mean a greater ability to compete in the globalised economy. We also need to put candidates at the heart of how we assess in order to foster this shift in India’s testing psyche.

Helping candidates by providing every convenience in how, when and where they schedule and take their exam along with creating the best testing environments all combine to give candidates the greatest chance to succeed. Greater exam integrity combined with greater candidate convenience could significantly boost the reputation and take-up of respected exam programmes nationally, setting a vital upward trajectory for the image of India’s education system on the international stage.

(the author is test development strategist, Pearson VUE)

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