Tom Benton

Tom Benton

I’m a statistician and psychometrician, having completed a BSc in Mathematics at the University of Durham followed by a PhD in Statistics at Imperial College London.

Since completing my studies I’ve worked exclusively on the analysis of educational datasets. For just over ten years I worked at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). In 2012 I joined Cambridge Assessment and have continued my statistical work as part of their research team.

I’m interested in all applications of quantitative methods to educational data and, as such, my research covers a wide range of topics. Some recent examples include exploring statistical approaches to maintaining examination standards, methods to detect cheating, the reliability of coursework, getting useful data from images of candidates’ scripts, and gender differences in performance.

Publications

2017

Pooling the totality of our data resources to maintain standards in the face of changing cohorts
Benton, T. (2017). Presented at the 18th annual AEA Europe conference, Prague, 9-11 November 2017.
Comparing small-sample equating with Angoff judgment for linking cut-scores on two tests
Bramley, T. and Benton, T. (2017). Presented at the 18th annual AEA Europe conference, Prague, 9-11 November 2017.
How much do I need to write to get top marks?

Benton, T. (2017). How much do I need to write to get top marks? Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 24, 37-40.

This article looks at the relationship between how much candidates write and the grade they are awarded in an English Literature GCSE examination. Although such analyses are common within computer-based testing, far less had been written about this relationship for traditional exams taken with a pen and paper. This article briefly describes how we estimated word counts based on images of exam scripts, validates the method against a short answer question from a Biology examination, and then uses the method to examine how the length of candidates’ English Literature essays in an exam relate to the grade they were awarded. It shows that candidates awarded a grade A* wrote around 700 words on average in a 45-minute exam - an average rate of 15-words per minute across the period. In contrast, grade E candidates who produced around 450 words - an average rate of 10-words per minute. Whilst it cannot be emphasised strongly enough that performance in GCSEs is judged by what students write and not how much, the results of this research may help students facing examinations have a reasonable idea of the kind of length that is generally expected.

Some thoughts on the ‘Comparative Progression Analysis’ method for investigating inter-subject comparability
Benton, T. and Bramley, T. (2017). Cambridge Assessment Research Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Assessment.
Can AI learn to equate?
Benton, T. (2017). Presented at the International Meeting of the Psychometric Society, Zurich, Switzerland, 17-21 July 2017.
The clue in the dot of the ‘i’: Experiments in quick methods for verifying identity via handwriting

Benton, T. (2017).  The clue in the dot of the ‘i’: Experiments in quick methods for verifying identity via handwriting. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 23, 10-16.

This article demonstrates some simple and quick techniques for comparing the style of handwriting between two exams. This could potentially be a useful way of checking that the same person has taken all of the different components leading to a qualification and form one part of the effort to ensure qualifications are only awarded to those candidates that have personally completed the necessary assessments. The advantage of this form of identity checking is that it is based upon data (in the form of images) that is already routinely stored as part of the process of on-screen marking. This article shows that some simple metrics can quickly identify candidates whose handwriting shows a suspicious degree of change between occasions. However, close scrutiny of some of these scripts provides some reasons for caution in assuming that all cases of changing handwriting represent the presence of imposters. Some cases of apparently different handwriting also include aspects that indicate they may come from the same author. In other cases, the style of handwriting may change even within the same examination response.

2016

Evidence for the reliability of coursework

Benton, T. (2016). Paper presented at the AEA-Europe annual conference, Limassol, Cyprus, 3-5 November 2016

Revisiting the topics taught as part of an OCR History qualification

Dunn, K., Darlington, E. and Benton, T. (2016). Revisiting the topics taught as part of an OCR History qualification. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 22, 2-8.

Given the introduction of a broader range of options in OCR's new A level history specification, this article follows on from a previous analysis of A level History options based on the previous specification for OCR History (Specification A). That research relied on OCR History centres responding to requests for participation in an online survey. However, OCR’s introduction of an online ‘specification creator’ tool for centres has provided quantitative information about the topics which schools intend to teach their students as part of their A level.  As with the previous study, we sought to establish what the common topic choices and combinations are.

On the impact of aligning the difficulty of GCSE subjects on aggregated measures of pupil and school performance

Benton, T. (2016). On the impact of aligning the difficulty of GCSE subjects on aggregated measures of pupil and school performance. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 22, 27-30.

It is empirically demonstrated that adjusting aggregated measures of either student or school performance to account for the relative difficulty of General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) subjects makes essentially no difference. For either students or schools, the correlation between unadjusted and adjusted measures of performance exceeds 0.998. This indicates that suggested variations in the difficulty of different GCSE subjects do not cause any serious problems either for school accountability, or for summarising the achievement of students at GCSE.

2015

The Importance of Teaching Styles and Curriculum in Mathematics: Analysis of TIMSS 2011
Zanini, N. and Benton, T. (2015) Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), Budapest, Hungary, 8-11 September 2015
How statistics determine examination results in England
Benton, T. (2015) Paper presented at the Royal Statistical Society Annual Conference, Exeter, 7-10 September 2015
The roles of teaching styles and curriculum in Mathematics achievement: Analysis of TIMSS 2011

Zanini, T. & Benton, T. (2015). The roles of teaching styles and curriculum in Mathematics achievement: Analysis of TIMSS 2011. Reserach Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 35-44.

This article provides empirical evidence about the link between Mathematics achievement, curriculum, teaching methods and resources used in the classroom. More specifically, this research explores common teaching styles and topics taught across countries with respect to their Mathematics achievement. In order to do so, we make use of the fifth TIMSS survey, which provides a rich set of information regarding aspects of the curriculum (e.g., the emphasis on problem solving and interpreting data sets), resources used by teachers in the classroom (e.g., calculators and textbooks) and teaching styles (e.g., how often students are asked to take written tests, to work out problems individually rather than with teachers' guidance), along with measures of achievement in Mathematics gathered in 2011. Although TIMSS is administered to students and their teachers in both Grades 4 and 8 (Years 5 and 9 respectively, within England), analysis in this research is restricted to the Grade 8 students (aged 14). When analysing data aggregated at jurisdictional level, this allows us to explore relationships in the Mathematics achievement of 15 year-olds as measured by PISA 2012.

A level reform: implications for subject uptake
Sutch, T., Zanini, N. and Benton, T. (2015).  Cambridge Assessment Research Report.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Assessment.
The accuracy of forecast grades for OCR GCSEs in June 2014
Gill, T. & Benton, T. (2015) Statistics Report Series No. 91
The accuracy of forecast grades for OCR A levels in June 2014
Gill, T. & Benton, T. (2015) Statistics Report Series No. 90
Volatility in exam results
Bramley, T. and Benton, T. (2015) Cambridge Assessment Research Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Assessment.
The reliability of setting grade boundaries using comparative judgement
Benton, T. and Elliott, G. (2015). The reliability of setting grade boundaries using comparative judgement. Research Papers in Education, 31(3), 352-376.
An experimental investigation of the effects of mark scheme features on marking reliability
Child, S., Munro, J. and Benton, T. (2015). Cambridge Assessment Research Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Assessment.
The use of evidence in setting and maintaining standards in GCSEs and A levels

Benton, T. and Bramley, T. (2015). Cambridge Assessment Research Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Assessment.

2014

Examining the impact of entry level qualifications on educational aspirations
Benton, T. (2014). Examining the impact of entry level qualifications on educational aspirations. Educational Research, 56(3), 259-276.
The relationship between time in education and achievement in PISA in England
Benton, T. (2014) Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association (BERA) conference, London, 23-25 September 2014
Using meta-regression to explore moderating effects in surveys of international achievement
Benton, T. (2014). Using meta-regression to explore moderating effects in surveys of international achievement. Practical Assessment Research and Evaluation, 19(3).
Analysis of the use of Key Stage 2 data in GCSE predictions
Benton, T. and Sutch T. (2014). Analysis of the use of Key Stage 2 data in GCSE predictions. Ofqual, Ofqual/14/5471, Coventry.
Examining the impact of tiered examinations on the aspirations of young people

Benton, T. (2014). Examining the impact of tiered examinations on the aspirations of young people. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 17, 42-46.

Tiered examinations are commonly employed within GCSE examinations in the UK. They are intended to ensure that the difficulties of exam papers are correctly tailored to the ability of the candidates taking them; this should ensure more accurate measurements and also a better experience for candidates as they do not spend time addressing questions that are either too easy or too difficult given their level of skill. However, tiered examinations have also been criticised for potentially damaging the aspirations of young people entered for lower tier examinations by placing a limit on the grades they can achieve. This article explores the extent of the link between GCSE entry tier and aspirations and also investigates the extent to which this link can be explained by differences in achievement and background characteristics of pupils.

The research makes use of data available from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) linked to information available from the National Pupil Database (NPD) regarding the qualifications achieved by pupils and also their entry tier at GCSE. Analysis was completed using a combination of multilevel modelling and propensity score matching and showed that differences in aspirations between pupils entering different tiers can almost entirely be explained by differences in background characteristics.

2013

Examining the impact of tiered examinations on the aspirations of young people
Benton, T. (2013) Paper presented at British Educational Research Association (BERA) conference, Brighton, 3-5 September 2013
An empirical assessment of Guttman's Lambda 4 reliability coefficient

Benton, T. (2013) Paper presented at the 78th Annual Meeting of the Psychometric Society, Arnhem, The Netherlands, 22-26 July 2013

Exploring the value of GCSE prediction matrices based upon attainment at Key Stage 2
Benton, T. and Sutch, T. (2013). Cambridge Assessment Research Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Assessment.
Investigating the relationship between aspects of countries’ assessment systems and achievement on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests
Gill, T., and Benton, T. (2013). Cambridge Assessment Research Report. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Assessment.

Research Matters

Research Matters

Research Matters is our free biannual publication which allows us to share our assessment research, in a range of fields, with the wider assessment community.