Standardizing Kenya’s National Exams

From the Star

Why exam standardization is important

Sometimes a test can determine whether you live or die. In the United States, offenders have to do various psychiatric tests to ascertain whether they are fit to stand trial. A schizophrenic offender will be deemed unfit for trail and instead of facing incarceration, he might be directed towards psychiatric resources and help.

How to standardize exams

Standardizing exams entails boosting our trust of an exams’ ability to measure the learning capacity of students. The same way we trust thermometers to tell us temperature or IQ tests to know whether offenders understand their crimes is the same way we use standardized exams to measure learning ability among pupils.

Construct validity

You can’t answer the rest of the questions until you get question one right. The purpose of the question is to help us understand why we give exams and whether we understand what we are testing. An example of a construct is intelligence which is measured by IQ tests. Since we agreed both KCPE and KCSE are measurement tools it’s our number one concern to know what they measure. These exams don’t measure intelligence because we would know by comparing IQ test results with KCSE results (Criterion validity #3).

List of psychological constructs

Content validity

Assuming examinations are the best way to measure academic performance, we need exam questions to help us meet that objective. These questions will form the basis for our instruments. Content validity is a demonstration that seeks to understand whether the exam questions or test items devised to measure a construct like academic performance actually do measure it.

A test for locus of control

Criterion validity

Since we now have an exam complete with questions the next step is to know whether these questions measure academic performance. Coming up with a test and items does not mean the instrument measures the specific construct you identified. For example, how do we know that the 1+1 we included in the exam measures academic performance. One needs to go a few extra steps to find out. One way to find out is to establish the criterion validity. I hinted above that a construct can be measured by more than one instruments. In the case of academic performance, we can measure student’s learning by comparing the results of our exams with the results of other exams that measure academic performance.


The last step of the standardization process is to determine the accuracy of the test in measuring academic performance. We invoke the reliability of the instrument or the test in measuring the construct. We know our thermometers are accurate if they give us consistent results. A clock that loses two seconds every minute is not a good clock. Similarly, an exam with low accuracy is not a good exam. For every inaccurate result a child falls through the cracks.



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Zinah Issa

Zinah Issa

Reflecting on the cognitive and sociocultural nature of our societies.