Assessment drives and shapes learning and is one of the most important elements within the teaching and learning process for both teachers and students.

“Assessment is a central feature of teaching and the curriculum. It powerfully frames how students learn and what students achieve”

(Boud, 2010).

This guide covers the high-level essentials that need to be considered for good assessment practice, including principles of good practice.

Assessment methods & approaches

Assessment is integral to curriculum design and it is critical that there is a strong alignment between learning outcomes, assessment practices, teaching methods and learning activities. The assessment methods and approaches that you design and use are dependent on the learning outcomes of the unit.

Good assessment practice considers the balance between formative and summative assessment tasks, ensuring that you don’t over-assess. Students value timely and meaningful feedback. It is important that assessment processes are reliable and valid and that marking is moderated.

The use of rubrics and marking guides assist this process. Not all assessment processes need to be teacher-driven. Including self-assessment tasks, peer-assessment tasks and external assessors can all add value to the assessment experience.

The VU Assessment for learning policy and procedures set out the minimum expectations regarding assessment.

 

Guiding principles

The following principles should guide your approach to good assessment practice:

  • Focus on students as learners
  • Actively engage students in the learning and assessment tasks - this includes understanding about the assessment tasks, purposes and processes
  • Ensure assessment tasks are developmental throughout the course, moving from simple and short to complex and longer over time. Build capacity through assessment.
  • Include an early assessment task in each unit so that students can gauge their progress.
  • Take into account student diversity when designing assessment tasks and practices, so that individual students are not disadvantaged
  • Design authentic and realistic assessment tasks that prepare students for future employment and learning.
  • Ensure that assessment tasks are clearly communicated to students so that they have a good understanding of what is expected.
  • Refresh assessment tasks over time (this helps to deal with plagiarism).

Questions

  • What learning outcomes do I want my students to achieve?
  • How will I assess this achievement? (assessment tasks)
  • Do the assessment tasks align with the learning outcomes?
  • How will I support this learning and assessment through appropriate teaching and learning activities?
  • Does the assessment match the type of learning in the unit?
  • Are there varied assessment tasks across the whole course catering for different learning styles?

Assessing for learning – formative & summative

Assessment needs to be developmental and both formative and summative assessments need to be part of the learning experience.

Formative assessment is for learning and summative assessment is more as learning although it also can be framed for learning. Victoria University provides the following definitions of formative and summative assessment.

Formative assessment: assessment that provides feedback to the student during the learning experience.

Summative assessment: assessment that is focussed on the outcomes of the learning experience.

Both formative and summative assessment need to be part of your assessment design - what is the balance of formative and summative assessment tasks in your unit?

Over-assessing

It is better to focus on the quality of the assessment process rather than the quantity of assessment tasks. Not every aspect of the unit content needs to be assessed. Over-assessing can be avoided by ensuring that:

  • assessment tasks assess more than one learning outcome.
  • the total number of assessment tasks are limited.
  • there is a balance of load between the number of assessment tasks within a unit and when they are due.

Moderation & validation

As assessment is used for credentialing. It is important that the assessment task is validated and marking is moderated.

Validity is a matter of judgement and relates to whether the criteria match the assessment task and align with the learning outcomes.

Reliability is concerned with the consistency of the marking process against the criteria.

Moderation of assessment assists in ensuring validity and reliability. It involves a process by which teachers discuss and reach agreement.

Questions

  • How valid are your assessment tasks?
  • Are they measuring evidence of achievement of the related intended learning outcomes?
  • How are you assuring validity of your assessment process?
  • What moderation processes do you have in place?

Feedback

Good assessment practice includes timely and meaningful feedback to students on their assessment tasks.

The feedback should actively improve student learning and engage students in the learning process.

Feedback is most effective when it is perceived by the students as relevant, encouraging and constructive and consequential. This often requires talking with students about the feedback process so that they understand how it can support their learning.

Questions

  • How do you provide feedback to your students on their assessment tasks?
  • Does the feedback directly link to the next set of activities/assessment so that students can use it for improvement?
  • Are your students aware of how to use the feedback to improve and support their learning?

Rubrics & marking guides

The use of rubrics and marking guides are useful tools to ensure reliability and validity of assessment tasks.

A rubric identifies the marking criteria and the weighting against each criterion, and is a useful tool in the marking process particularly if there are multiple markers.

It is important that the criteria match the task and the learning outcomes and keeping the criteria simple ensures clarity. Making the process transparent to students also assists them in their assessment practice and there are advantages in sharing the marking rubric with students.

Assessment approaches

Many teachers fall into the practice of believing that they are the only ones who can formally assess students’ work. There can be significant benefits of involving students in your assessment practices. While you will retain a key role in making the final decision for summative assessment tasks there are many ways that you can integrate self and peer assessment practices into your teaching to improve the assessment literacy of students and increase formative assessment practices for your students.

In supporting a student centred approach to teaching, actively involving students in their own assessment and that of peers supports greater engagement of students in their learning. External assessment also plays an important role in supporting teachers in summative assessment processes.

Self-assessment occurs when students make judgements and assess their own performance. According to Boud (1995) this includes two elements. Involving students in:

  • making decisions about the standards and criteria for performance
  • making judgements about the quality of the performance against those standards.

For students there are many benefits of this practice which include:

  • developing the ability to objectively reflect on and critically evaluate their own progress and skill development.
  • an understanding of learner responsibility where the student takes ownership of their learning and experiences independence.
  • the ability to identify gaps in their understanding and capabilities.
  • developing critical skills that equip students to conduct and evaluate their own learning and how to improve their performance.
  • providing sustainable practice of a range of skills for working life and professional practice.

While self-assessment practices can be as reliable as other assessment practices it is important to remember that students must be supported in the process through training and practice. Unless preparation and support for self-assessment practices are put in place, self-assessment tasks may not succeed.

Students will require clear guidance about why they are doing this and their expectations. Criteria for assessment task will need to be explicit and involving and engaging students in developing criteria benefits the process. Students’ ability to self-assess will need to be developed over time and with careful guidance by you, the teacher.

Peer-assessment is closely related to self-assessment but focuses directly on students providing feedback and/or making judgements of other students’ work. Many of the benefits that have been listed for self-assessment practices apply to peer-assessment, but the additional advantages of peer-assessment are the collaborative practices that this involves. It also enables students to get a wider range of views on their assessment practices from a diverse audience Like self-assessment practices, peer-assessment needs to be well supported.

Students will need adequate training and guidance in peer-assessment, with explicit and detailed information about criteria and procedures, the purpose of the task and what is expected of them. Rubrics are a useful tool for representing and supporting assessment criteria.

Peer-assessment is often a used in group/team based approaches to learning and can be used informally as part of group learning activities through to summative assessment. It can take on many different forms and be used for a range of different assessment tasks. It can be used for providing feedback and/or assessing individual work as well as group activities. It can be done openly and shared with the class or anonymously.

There are a number of online tools that are available now which will assist students in peer-review practices and some of these are built into learning management systems.

Reliability and validity is critical to the success of assessment processes. Validity is a matter of judgement and relates to whether the criteria match the assessment task and align with the learning outcomes. Reliability is concerned with the consistency of the marking process against the criteria.

Moderation of assessment assists in ensuring validity and reliability. Many moderation processes involve the engagement of external assessors. This is sometimes arranged formally (and may be driven by a professional body) or as part of a regular review process.

There are many other opportunities where external assessors may be engaged. These include:

  • reviewing and assessing units (particularly engaging external people with specific experience).
  • representatives on panels for summative assessment processes.
  • being part of the assessment process for placements that are external to the university.
  • engaging people with specific expertise for project based assessment.

When selecting and engaging external assessors it is important to ensure that they have the relevant qualification s and experience to undertake the task and that they are provided with relevant information about the University’s assessment policies and procedures.

Questions

  • Do you use any self or peer assessment activities in your teaching?
  • If you do, how do you support your students in these tasks?
  • What self/peer assessment practices are specific to your discipline area?
  • Do you engage any external assessors in your teaching?
  • What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Additional resources

Boud, D & Associates 2010, Assessment 2020: Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education 

Boud, D., & Falchikov, N. (Eds.). (2007). Rethinking assessment in higher education: Learning for the longer term. Routledge.

Brown, S & Race, P 2012 ‘Using effective assessment to promote learning’, in Hunt, L. & Chalmers, D. (eds), University teaching in focus – A learning-centred approach, ACER Press, Camberwell. 

Flint, NR & Johnson, B 2011 Towards fairer university assessment: recognising the concerns of students. Routledge, Abingdon 

Gibbs, G 2010 Using assessment to support student learning, Leeds Met Press, Leeds

Race, P 2014 Making learning happen; 3rd edition, Sage, London.

Race, P., Brown, S., & Smith, B. (2005). ‘Involving students in their own assessment’ in Race et al, 500 tips on assessment. Psychology Press.

University of New South Wales – assessment guides on self assessment and peer assessment