The degree of standardization in high school exit examinations varies from one country to the next. In Germany, for example, the administration and grading of Abitur examinations is minimally to moderately standardized in comparison to other OECD countries. In the Anglo-American countries, the administration and grading of such examinations is outsourced to officially authorized exam centers, and in many other countries, at least the grading takes place under completely anonymous conditions. In Germany, however, the person grading the examination usually can see the student’s name and school. Grading is also done in a class-based manner within the individual schools themselves.
The number of examination subjects also varies from one country to the next. In Germany, examinations in three written Abitur subjects are administered in a centralized manner under the oversight of the teacher of the course. The same course teacher serves as the first examiner, using centrally defined levels of expectations and grading guidelines as the basis for assigning grades. Differences between the German states appear in other areas — for example, over the question of whether examinations are administered in a state-wide manner in all written exam subjects or just in certain subjects or groups of subjects, or depending on the level of demands (basic/advanced courses). The states also differ over the question of whether and under what conditions a third examiner is involved in grading.
For this reason, the introduction of the state-wide exit examination (Zentralabitur) in Hesse und Bremen provides a large “field experiment” on the introduction of standardized exit examinations: the mode of implementation differs between the two states. In Hesse, the statewide exit exam was introduced in 2007 in all three of the written examination subjects (advanced courses and one basic course) simultaneously. In Bremen, state-wide exit exams were introduced in two steps: in 2007 in just the third examination subject (that is, in the basic course) and in 2008 in the advanced courses in core subjects (German, math, natural sciences, advanced foreign languages). In the other advanced courses (history, education, art, gym, etc.), decentralized examinations were still being given after 2008. In Hesse, the examinations are graded not only by the first and second examiners within the school but also subsequently in some subjects (varying over the years) by a third examiner outside the school. In Bremen, there is no (external) third examiner.
Since the students provide all their answers for each of the three examination subjects separately in the questionnaires, their answers for the advanced courses in 2007 and 2008 can be compared directly to examine the effects of changing from a class-based to a state-wide examination system. It is also possible to study the results of introducing standardized examinations in a single step (Hesse) versus several steps (Bremen). The same is true for the teachers, who also provide their answers separately for the courses with class-based and state-wide examinations.