A new approach to assessment

Assessment is a key driver of student learning and at the heart of the student experience. From the student point of view, assessment defines the curriculum. Assessment can be an important route into engaging students in new ways of learning.

At the online Learning Futures Festival in November from the Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester Professor Margaret Price, director of the ASKe Centre of Excellence at Oxford Brookes University, spoke on “Shaping Assessment for the Future”.

She established first that assessment practice isn’t currently ideal – the types of assessment we currently use do not promote conceptual understanding and do not encourage a deep approach to learning. Problems with reliability mean teachers shy away from deep and contextual approaches to assessment. Students can become more interested in marks and grades than in the subject they are studying. Learning to pass the test becomes more important than learning about and interest in the subject. There are also issues with setting standards and criteria and encouraging involvement of and participation by student.

Prof Price introduced us to Assessment Standards, a manifesto for change, the results of two days of expert discussions. There are six tenets to the manifesto – principles that need to be embedded before assessment techniques are redesigned.

  1. The debate on standards needs to focus on how high standards of learning can be achieved through assessment.
  2. We need to move beyond systems based on marks and grades because reliability issues get in the way of valid assessment.
  3. Limits to the extent that standards can be articulated explicitly must be recognised. There are important benefits of HE which are not amenable either to the precise specification of standards or to objective assessment.
  4. Assessment standards are socially constructed so there must be a greater emphasis on assessment and feedback processes that actively engage both staff and students in dialogue about standards.
  5. Active engagement with assessment standards needs to be an integral and seamless part of course design and the learning process.
  6. Assessment is largely dependent upon professional judgement, and to have confidence in such judgement suggests of establishment of forums for development and sharing of standards within disciplinary communities.

For me it was summed up with the comment from tenet 4 that β€œIt is when learners share an understanding of academic and professional standards in an atmosphere of mutual trust that learning works best.” This is clearly the case and must be applied as much to assessment as to other aspects of designing learning, and indeed, is essential to those other aspects being successfully implemented.

More information at http://www.business.brookes.ac.uk/learningandteaching/aske