Katherine Fowler and Jemma Coulton - NFER

Katherine Fowler and Jemma Coulton, Researchers, NFER

“ Our student’s placement coincided with a particularly busy period in the Centre for Assessment. This meant that the student was able to meaningfully contribute to a range of aspects of the large scale test development project.”



What type of research projects do you offer?
NFER are able to offer projects in statistical analysis, evaluation of educational interventions, and test development in reading, grammar and maths. In 2015 we offered a research project in our Centre for Assessment. We wanted the student to analyse questionnaire data collected from teachers taking part in a large scale standardisation trial of our Key Stage 2 maths and reading assessments. This involved writing a syntax using SPSS analysis software and then presenting and interpreting the output from this analysis. The student was also involved in a range of other activities relating to assessment development, including writing questions for a KS2 maths test, reviewing GCSE level maths items and checking the marking of pupil responses for quality assurance purposes..

How do you formulate a suitable project for a Nuffield student?
We wanted the project to fit with the skills and interests of our student as far as possible. Our student had a background in maths and was interested in continuing her studies in mathematics at University. We therefore developed the project to include tasks that were related either to the development of our mathematics tests or to statistical analysis related to the large scale trialling of our tests. We were conscious of the fact that test development was unlikely to be something that students are familiar with and so we wanted our student to gain experience of a range of activities that researchers in the Centre for Assessment would routinely complete in addition to the specific analysis that was central to the project. These additional activities included question writing, marking and classifying pupil responses, data quality assurance and interpreting data demonstrating how questions functioned when trialled. We felt it was important that the project involved tasks that clearly contributed to active projects so that students felt that their work had an impact. As such the work that our student completed, although contained within the 4 week placement, directly contributed to a larger ongoing test development project.

What do you feel are the main benefits to you and your organisation from participating in the programme?
We found that as our student was currently completing A Level Mathematics she was able to draw on her own experience and understanding to give a fresh perspective to a lot of the work she completed. This was especially apparent when she began to write and review mathematics questions. Her input on this stage of development was very useful. Additionally, our student’s placement coincided with a particularly busy period in the Centre for Assessment. This meant that the student was able to meaningfully contribute to a range of aspects of the large scale test development project.

What would you say are the key benefits to the Nuffield students?
As well as gaining experience of various aspects of test development our student also learnt how to write syntax using SPSS, a piece of computer software for conducting statistical analyses that she had not used previously. Our student seemed pleased to have had the opportunity to see how her knowledge of mathematics, particularly statistics, which may seem abstract when studied at A Level, could be used in an applied context. In addition, taking part in the Nuffield placement scheme more generally had many benefits, including experience of being in a workplace for an extended period of time, a chance to consolidate theoretical understanding by viewing how skills can be used more widely, and the opportunity to make contacts with people in the social sciences industry.
We hope that our student benefited from her time spent at NFER and that her experience will help as she continues her studies.

What personal skills would you say members of your team gained from supervising a Nuffield student?
Staff involved in organising the Nuffield student placement gained a range of supervision skills, including arranging the workload of another person and coordinating activities. One useful area to develop was the ability to explain the work we do to a student with no prior experience of this research area. This balanced with how to train the student on quite complex, technical tasks, such as data quality assurance and SPSS syntax, while working at the level that would be most useful to a newcomer to this area of research.

Would you recommend the scheme to others?
Yes, we feel that having a student was beneficial for our centre and we appreciated the opportunity to introduce a student to the work we do.