Modifying Hofstee standard setting for assessments that vary in difficulty, and to determine boundaries for different levels of achievement.
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BACKGROUND: Fixed mark grade boundaries for non-linear assessment scales fail to account for variations in assessment difficulty. Where assessment difficulty varies more than ability of successive cohorts or the quality of the teaching, anchoring grade boundaries to median cohort performance should provide an effective method for setting standards. METHODS: This study investigated the use of a modified Hofstee (MH) method for setting unsatisfactory/satisfactory and satisfactory/excellent grade boundaries for multiple choice question-style assessments, adjusted using the cohort median to obviate the effect of subjective judgements and provision of grade quotas. RESULTS: Outcomes for the MH method were compared with formula scoring/correction for guessing (FS/CFG) for 11 assessments, indicating that there were no significant differences between MH and FS/CFG in either the effective unsatisfactory/satisfactory grade boundary or the proportion of unsatisfactory graded candidates (p > 0.05). However the boundary for excellent performance was significantly higher for MH (p < 0.01), and the proportion of candidates returned as excellent was significantly lower (p < 0.01). MH also generated performance profiles and pass marks that were not significantly different from those given by the Ebel method of criterion-referenced standard setting. CONCLUSIONS: This supports MH as an objective model for calculating variable grade boundaries, adjusted for test difficulty. Furthermore, it easily creates boundaries for unsatisfactory/satisfactory and satisfactory/excellent performance that are protected against grade inflation. It could be implemented as a stand-alone method of standard setting, or as part of the post-examination analysis of results for assessments for which pre-examination criterion-referenced standard setting is employed.
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