Department of Education

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Samantha-Kaye Johnston is a Research Officer at the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment (OUCEA).

Samantha-Kaye was formally educated in Jamaica, where she completed her Bachelor of Science in Psychology. In England, she received her Master of Arts in Education and then completed her Ph.D. in Psychology in Australia. Using a cognitive psychology lens, Samantha’s expertise and interest lie at the intersection of education and psychology. She aims to link these areas with evidence-based e-learning technologies to improve teaching, learning, and assessment outcomes.

Samantha has 10+ years of experience in the project management sector, where she has been actively involved in education development initiatives. In 2016, as part of her Project Capability, she founded the Marlon Christie scholarship, which provides a scholarship for Jamaican students with reading difficulties to attend university. As an extension of this project, Samantha founded Reading for Humanity, to elevate the science of reading, the science of learning, and the science of technology within the classroom. Her work is informed by her experience as an advocate and researcher in Jamaica, England, and Australia, primarily within the K-12 sector, as well as within non-governmental, private, community organisations, and United Nations bodies.

She has experience as a University Associate at Curtin University and Teaching Associate at Monash University, as part of their undergraduate and graduate psychology teaching teams. Within this space, she has been teaching and/or assessing various psychology units, including Introduction to Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Science and Professional Practice in Psychology, and Indigenous and Cross-Cultural Psychology.

During her time in the ed-tech sector, and in collaboration with UNESCO’s Future of Education Initiative, she conceptualised and spearheaded Project Seat-at-the-Table (Project SAT), an international qualitative research initiative that aimed at providing primary and secondary school students with the opportunity to provide their input on the future of technology in their education. As an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University, Samantha’s seeks to strengthen internet governance within online learning. In particular, she is interested in ensuring that the rights of young students are protected while they interact within the digital space, including elevating the voices of students in decision-making processes.

Above all, Samantha believes that every child should have the same opportunity to shape their destiny, emphasing that we cannot always build the future for them, but we can build them for the future. Consequently, her goal is to ensure that teachers implement evidence-based pedagogical approaches that will strengthen 21st-century skills, including, critical thinking and creativity, in all students.

Renyu completed her BA degree in Psychology at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) and her MPhil degree in Education at University of Cambridge.

During her MPhil study, she worked with children aged 4 to 6 years to investigate the relationship between bilingualism, vocabulary size, and inhibitory control, and also to validate a novel app designed to assess early language development. For her Dphil study at Oxford, Renyu aims to explore the factors that might affect L2 pronunciation learning in young children and the interaction between children’s L1 and L2. She is particularly interested in the psychological factors that might influence a child’s L2 pronunciation.

Prior to studying at Oxford, Renyu worked as Research Assistant at the Assessment Research Group at British Council for one year and a half. She was involved in various projects, including gap analysis on reading demand and reading ability, participant feedback questionnaire design and analysis, design and recruitment for a new EAP task study, etc.

Abbey is a Probationary Research Student in the Department of Education, in collaboration with the Department of Engineering.

Before joining the DPhil program, Abbey obtained a B.A. in Applied Linguistics with minors in Russian and Chinese from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MSc in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition from the University of Oxford. She was the recipient of a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship through U.S. Department of State for study in Russia and was awarded two Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships for study in both Russia and China. She holds both TESOL and TEFL certificates and has taught English as a Second Language in various contexts to a wide variety of learner populations.

Abbey’s main research interests lie in the use of technology to facilitate language learning. Her DPhil research focuses on the development of a virtual reality program to bridge the gaps that students face when learning languages through distance learning.

Minto Felix is a doctoral student investigating research culture in Indian higher education and a recipient of the department’s Judge Scholarship. He is supervised by Professor Simon Marginson and Professor Alis Oancea.

Minto is a graduate of the department’s MSc Higher Education Course, where he graduated with Distinction. He is interested in the research impact and quality of Indian universities, and the contribution of locally and regionally led research to India’s economic and social development.

Outside of Oxford, Minto is a consultant with the Nous Group, providing strategy and public policy advice to UK higher education institutions and other sectors. He has worked across Australia and the UK in strategy and advisory roles in health and higher education, and writes frequently on these issues for mainstream media outlets in both these countries. Minto also holds a Masters in Health Administration and Bachelor of Psychological Sciences from Monash University, Australia where he was a recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s “Ancora Imparo” student leadership award and the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Diversity and Inclusion.


As a mathematics teacher who believes that anyone can understand mathematics, Ashley is keenly interested in developing interventions and resources for learners who struggle with the subject. More specifically, she is focusing on the transitionary moment in the classroom when discussions have ceased, and practice begins and how this transition can become more fluid for learners.

By drawing on research from education, psychology and cognitive neuroscience, Ashley hopes to gain insights into how the brain and mind process information and how this knowledge can inform teacher practice and, ultimately, help learners understand mathematics.

After having taught for over ten years, Ashley completed her MSc, with Distinction, at the Department of Education, and her dissertation was “Highly Commended” by the British Educational Research Association (BERA). She is committed to making mathematics more accessible for all learners and strives for research that is not only impactful but also directly applicable to the classroom.

Before joining in the DPhil programme in Oxford, Demi completed her BA in Education Studies in UCL Institute of Education and MPhil in Educational Research in University of Cambridge. In her master thesis, she focused on the role of disciplinary differences in students’ attitudes to assessment formats.

Currently, her research interest is in self-regulated learning in the context of higher education using mixed-method approach.

Researchers from Oxford’s Department of Education have found that students who take the International Baccalaureate (IB) exhibit stronger critical thinking skills than their non-IB peers.

The year-long study, commissioned by the International Baccalaureate Organization, looked at 560 students from eight schools in Australia, England and Norway to examine the impact of the IB’s Diploma Programme (DP) on students’ critical thinking abilities. In broad terms, critical thinking refers to a person’s ability to analyse, synthesise and evaluate information. The DP is aimed at students aged 16-19.

The research was split into three phases. The first phase involved a literature review and analysis of IB materials to understand how the IB integrates critical thinking across DP subjects and components. Next, the researchers conducted quantitative data collection in schools to assess differences between DP and non-DP students, using the pre-validated Cornell Critical Thinking Test. The final phase involved interviews with DP students and teachers about their experiences learning or teaching critical thinking in the DP.

In phase two, researchers used statistical techniques known as regression analysis and propensity score matching to explore differences between DP and non-DP students. After controlling for covariates, DP students were found to have significantly higher critical thinking than their non-DP peers.

Professor Therese Hopfenbeck of the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, who led the research, said: ‘While we can’t know for certain whether IB participation improves critical thinking, it is noteworthy that, even after controlling for many pre-existing differences, IB students appear to hold an advantage when it comes to critical thinking. The findings suggest that instructional approaches that focus on teaching critical thinking skills explicitly, as well as embedding opportunities for students to think critically within each subject, may facilitate the development of critical thinking skills.

‘IB students and teachers have identified many potential avenues by which the IB encourages the development of critical thinking, and hopefully in the future we can build an even clearer picture of how to improve students’ critical thinking skills.’

The IB was founded in 1968 and now engages with more than 1.4 million students in over 5,300 schools across 158 countries.

Read the full report or a summary of the study.



ILSAs show that student performance in Spain is lower than the OECD average and has shown no progress from 2000 until 2011/2012.

One of the main features is the low proportion of top performers. During this long period of stagnation, the education system was characterized by having no national (or standardized regional) evaluations and no flexibility to adapt to the different needs of the student population. The fact that the system was blind and rigid, plus the lack of common standards at the national level, gave rise to three major deficiencies: a high rate of grade repetition, which led to high rates of early school leaving, and large differences between regions.

These features of the Spanish education system represent major inequities. However, PISA findings were used to reinforce the misguided view that the Spanish education system prioritized equity over excellence. After the implementation of an education reform, some improvements in student performance took place in 2015 and 2016. Unfortunately, the results for PISA 2018 in reading were withdrawn for Spain and then published in July with cautionary notes about the lack of comparability.

In this seminar, Montserrat Gomendio will discuss why changes in methodology may have led to unreliable results and what the wider implications of this may be.

About the speaker

Professor Montserrat Gomendio started her career as a biologist. She joined the University of Cambridge (UK) with a PhD studentship from St John’s College, then became a Research Fellow at Trinity Hall and continued her research as an Associate Lecturer.

She obtained a tenured position at the Spanish National Research Council and became Director of the National Science Museum and then Vice-President of the Spanish National Research Council. During the next stage of her career she worked on education and skills. She became Secretary of State for Education, Vocational Training and Universities (2012-2015) and then joined the OECD (2015-2019) first as Deputy Director for Education and then as Head of the OECD Centre for Skills.

By Dr Rebecca Eynon (Associate Professor between the Department of Education and the Oxford Internet Institute) & Professor Jo-Anne Baird (Director of the Department of Education)

Now that the infamous Ofqual algorithm for deciding the high-stake exam results for hundreds of thousands of students has been resoundingly rejected, the focus turns to the importance of investigating what went wrong. Indeed, the office for statistics regulation has already committed to a review of the models used for exam adjustment within well specified terms, and other reviews are likely to follow shortly.

A central focus from now, as students, their families, educational institutions and workplaces try to work out next steps, is to interrogate the unspoken and implicit values that guided the creation, use and implementation of this particular statistical model.

As part of the avalanche of critique aimed at Ofqual and the government, the question of values come in to play. Why, many have asked, was Ofqual tasked, as they are every year, with avoiding grade inflation as their overarching objective? Checks were made on the inequalities in the model and they were consistent with the inequalities seen in examinations at a national level.  This, though, begs the question of why these inequalities are accepted in a normal year.

These and other important arguments raised over the past week or so highlight questions about values. Specifically, they raise the fundamental question of why, aside from the debates in academia and some parts of the press, we have stopped discussing the purposes of education. Instead, a meritocratic view of education, promoted since the 1980s by governments on the right and left of the spectrum has become a given. In place of discussions about values, there has been an ever increasing focus on the collection and use of data to hold schools accountable for ‘delivering’ an efficient and effective education, to measure student’s ‘worth’ in ways that can easily be traded in the economy, and to water down ideas of social justice and draw attention away from wider inequalities in society.

Once debates about values are removed from our education and assessment systems, we are left with situations like the one now. The focus on creating a model that makes the data look like past years – with little debate over whether the aims should have been different this year is a central example of this. Given the significant (and unequal) challenges young people have faced during this year, should we not, as a society have wanted to reduce inequalities in our society in any way possible?

The question of values also carries through into other discussions of the datafication of education, where the collection and analysis of digital trace data, i.e. data collected from the technologies that young people engage with for learning and education, is growing exponentially. Yet unlike other areas of the public sector like health and policing, schools rarely have a central feature in policy discussions and reports of algorithmic fairness. The question is why?  There are highly significant ethical and social implications of extensive data use in education that significantly shape young people’s futures. These include issues of privacy, informed consent and data ownership (particularly due to the significant role of the commercial sector); the validity and integrity of the models produced; the nature of the decisions promoted by such systems; and questions of governance and accountability. This relative lack of policy interest in the implications of datafication for schooling is, we suggest, because governments take for granted the need for data of all kinds in education to support their meritocratic aims, and indeed see it as a central way to make education ‘fair’.

The Ofqual algorithm has brought to our attention the ethics of the datafication of education and the risk that poses of compounding social inequalities. Every year there is not only injustice from the unequal starting points and the unequal opportunities young people have within our schools and in their everyday lives, but there is also injustice in the pretence that extensive use of data is somehow a neutral process.

In the important reflections and investigations that should now take place over the coming weeks and months there needs to be a review that explicitly places values and ethical frameworks front and centre, that encourages a focus on the purposes of education, particularly in times of a (post-) pandemic.