The role of the Chief Examiner

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Chair of the IB Examining Board, Peter Hoeben, and Vice-chair of the IB Examining Board, Simon Oakes, talk with us about the role the examiners play in the assessment process and how assessment was impacted by COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

Three of the IB's programmes offer summative assessments: the Diploma Programme, the Career-related Programme and the Middle Years Programme, which are marked by IB examiners. The IB only appoints examiners who are experts in their subject and have teaching experience. They undergo training and quality assurance before and during marking.

Here, with input from Peter Hoeben, Chair of the IB Examining Board and Simon Oakes, Vice-chair of the IB Examining Board, we provide some insight into the Chief Examiners role.

The Chief Examiner is the most senior examiner in a subject and, in collaboration with the Subject Manager, oversees all aspects of the assessment process. All subjects with a cohort of more than 1000 students annually require the appointment of a Chief Examiner, while smaller subjects have an Examiner Responsible, who fulfills a very similar role.

The Chief Examiner can hold this position for a maximum of seven years and must be neutral and free from any bias that may affect the fairness of the assessment process—they cannot be employed at an IB school. Across most subjects, the Chief Examiner plays a key role at all stages of the assessment process; these include assessment authoring, standardization, grade awarding, reporting and post-results enquiries.

A key responsibility of the position is ensuring that the academic rigor of the assessment content is consistent over time and that outcomes for students are fair, reliable, and accurate and maintain their value from one session to the next. In addition, Chief Examiners together form the IB Examining Board – working with the IB, discussing and reviewing Assessment and Curriculum issues.

The authoring process for a suite of examination papers begins at least two years prior to the date of the examination. As a subject expert, the Chief Examiner leads a team of content developers and is responsible for ensuring that the examination content reflects the requirements of the Subject Guide and the assessment objectives, is appropriate to the age-range of the targeted students and maintains an academic standard parallel to previous years.

“During my tenure as a Chief Examiner, I was regularly invited to consult on upcoming assessment changes—often in relation to the arrival and maturation of new digital technologies. Right now, is an exciting time for chief examiners to be thinking about the possibilities of eAssessment in their respective DP subject areas,” shares Simon Oakes.

During the examination session, the Chief Examiner is supported by a team of Principal Examiners, who each assume responsibility for an individual component. During standardization, the Chief Examiner has oversight of all components and ensures that assessment principles are applied consistently, advising on key assessment decisions, which may also affect other components and ultimately impact the outcome of the assessment for the student.

Once marking is complete, the Chief Examiner is the senior academic consultant in the Grade Award process, during which the marks awarded to each student are transferred to the formal Grades, which appear on the student’s certificate. It is the responsibility of the Chief Examiner to ensure that the standards of academic achievement represented by the Grade awarded are equivalent to historic standards and therefore maintain the value of the award.

Peter Hoeben adds: “When marking a student’s work, to see their brilliance coming through in the depth of their conceptual understanding is highly enjoyable. What some of these students are capable of at that age, is mind-blowing. That makes marking a rewarding experience.”

Although the workload peaks during the examination session, the Chief Examiner are also often asked to participate in the Curriculum Review for their subject. In addition, they play an important consultative role in the development of the future assessment model.

Chief Examiners also collaborate with the Subject Manager on the composition of the examining teams and appointments of Principal Examiners; and at the end of each examination session, they sign-off the Subject Report – ensuring content is valid and offers sound advice to schools for the preparation of future students – acting as the final consultant on the accurate application of marking standards in cases where students are challenging the marks awarded.

In the lead-up to both the May and November in 2020 and 2021 and subsequent examination sessions, the Chief Examiners were consulted to inform the IB’s decision making on the modified assessment models in many subjects and supported the IB’s position in response to enquiries from regional and national regulatory bodies.

In the challenging circumstances of the recent current assessment sessions, it has been important that the Chief Examiner represents continuity and empathy, ensuring that the mitigations put into place by the IB are implemented fairly and consistently within their subject and that all students receive the recognition they deserve.