Peer and self-assessment

Students in discussion at RMIT.

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowsky.

Posted by: Dr Alex Radloff, Higher Education Consultant.

Peer and self-assessment use has been growing in Higher Education at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, as has the use of technology to support these forms of assessment. Peer-assessment refers to the process of assessing the quality of the products or outcomes of the learning of peers. Self-assessment refers to the process of assessing the quality of the products or outcomes of learning, or the act of learning, by the learner. Both kinds of assessment can be used as part of formative and summative assessment, either as ‘stand alone’, or in conjunction with teacher generated assessment. Academic staff who have used peer and self assessment report that:

  • The skills are a requirement of many professions/jobs and are valued by potential employers.
  • Using peer and/or self assessment skills demystifies the assessment process and makes it more accessible to learners.
  • Students are provided with more frequent and detailed/richer feedback from more sources.
  • Students develop analytical and critical skills needed to identify and use criteria and standards relevant to work in their discipline/profession. Learners engage more deeply /thoughtfully in learning and assessment tasks.
  • The skills help students to increase their metacognitive awareness and control of learning including planning, monitoring and evaluating learning.

Academic staff who have used peer and self assessment also report:

  • Resistance by students. Resistance is generally based on a lack of trust in the validity (does the assessment assess the stated or intended outcome?) and fairness of peer or self-assessment; a view that assessment is the responsibility of teachers and should only be undertaken by teachers, not learners; concerns about the capacity of learners to assess accurately; and concerns about possible accreditation requirements.
  • Quality issues related to the reliability of the assessment (how consistent assessment outcomes are over time) when based on the judgments of learners and their ability to interpret and apply criteria and standards appropriately.
  • Over-reliance on peer and/or self-assessment, especially for summative assessment purposes, to the exclusion of other forms of assessment can be an issue.
  • Learners need training/support to understand and use peer and self-assessment effectively.
  • The implementation of peer and/or self-assessment especially for large groups of learners, may require access to and the management of, specific technology and software.

Careful design of peer and self-assessment can address the problems and issues identified above. The steps in designing peer and self-assessment follow the typical assessment cycle, namely Purpose of assessment; Selection of assessment tasks; Setting criteria; Administering assessment; Scoring the assessment; Grading the assessment; and Feedback. To increase the effectiveness and efficiency of peer and self-assessment:

  • Make clear the rationale, purpose and expectations of the planned approach with students and colleagues. Address common concerns concerning validity, reliability, fairness and trust.
  • Involve students in developing the assessment criteria. Consider involving students in the design of the assessment activities as well, if appropriate.
  • Make clear how peer and/or self-assessment will be used in conjunction with teacher-assessment, if it is to contribute to a final grade.
  • Provide systematic training and practice for students in using the assessment criteria and standards with examples of products representing different levels of performance.
  • Give students clear, written instructions and guidelines on the assessment process including timelines, deadlines, and any consequences (rewards and/or penalties) associated with the process.
  • If using technology for assessment, ensure that it works and that students know how to access and use it and what to do if they need help.
  • Check how the assessment process is working and intervene if needed to provide feedback and coaching.
  • Keep records of assessment outcomes and monitor how peer and self-assessment compares to teacher assessment over time.
  • Review the outcomes in terms of learning, performance and satisfaction from both the students’ and the teacher’s perspectives, and revise design and implementation if needed.
  • Collaborate with colleagues to discuss different strategies and to share experiences.

Want to know more?

Past posts on peer assessment and peer learning can be accessed by clicking here or on the tags to the right. The following is a short survey of the academic literature relevant to the topic:

Bell, A., Mladenovic, R., & Price, M. (2012). Students’ perceptions of the usefulness of marking guides, grade descriptors and annotated exemplars. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, DOI:10.1080/02602938.2012.714738

Examines students’ views of the usefulness of exemplars, grade descriptors and marking criteria for reflection and learning, or for understanding the assessment task.

O’Donovan, B., Price, M., & Rust, C. (2008). Developing student understanding of assessment standards: A nested hierarchy of approaches. Teaching in Higher Education, 13, 205–217.

Discusses the importance of involving students in the assessment process and describes different ways to help students understand assessment requirements.

Higher Education Academy. Self and peer assessment. Post Graduate Certificate in Professional Development.http://www.glyndwr.ac.uk/cpd/pgcpd/assessment_and_giving_feedback/self_and_peer_assessment/assessment_issues.html

What are your views on peer assessment and peer learning? Share them in the comments section below!

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