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International Handbook on the Economics of Education

Edited by Geraint Johnes and Jill Johnes

This major Handbook comprehensively surveys the rapidly growing field of the economics of education. It is unique in that it comprises original contributions on an exceptional range of topics from a review of human capital, signalling and screening models, to consideration of issues such as educational externalities and economic growth, funding models, determinants of educational success, the educational production function, educational standards and efficiency measurement. Labour market issues such as the market for teachers and the transition of students from school to work are also explored.
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Chapter 12: Standards and Grade Inflation

Geraint Johnes


12 Standards and grade inflation Geraint Johnes 1 Introduction The human capital and the sorting models have very different implications for the role played by assessment in education. In the human capital model, education is a productivity enhancer (see Chapter 1 of this book). At the level of the individual, any use of assessment to evaluate the extent of learning is of little direct interest, since productivity gains are measured by subsequent remuneration in the labour market. Given the stock of human capital, the success or failure of an individual (say through luck) in gaining a credential is irrelevant to her future earnings. Education matters for productivity, but performance in assessment is incidental. In the case of the signalling and screening models of the kind discussed in Chapter 2 of this volume, however, summative assessment is the key; success in such assessment is an individual’s ticket to remunerative employment. This is because, in these models, it is the individual’s rank in a cohort of workers, rather than any absolute measure of productivity, that determines earnings. And rank can only be determined through the competition with other labour market entrants that is provided by the system of summative assessment. While assessment is not important at the level of the individual in the human capital model, there is a case for assessment in order to evaluate the performance of the educational system. Assuming constant standards, changes in the average performance of students in assessed work can be used as a...

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