Posted by: John Benwell, Principal Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.
In Melbourne, it’s the last week of scheduled classes and nearing the long break over the southern summer. Whilst thoughts may be wandering towards holidays, sun, the beach and all those great ‘Aussie’ pastimes, it’s time to assess and grade our students.
All the formative assessment has been done; we have provided vast quantities of feedback to our students and maybe provided avenues for feedback from their peers; now is the time to give each one a grade.
So I thought for my last post for the year, and before running to the beach to go sailing, I’d do a light refresher on assessment and point to some resources on rubrics to help you through.
At this stage of the year, we already know how most students are going. We have been giving them formative assessment tasks, and providing feedback to them so they can learn from their mistakes, fill the gaps and polish their performance. There have likely been summative assessments, which have been building towards a final mark.
Maybe you’ve read (and found useful) other tomtom posts that have discussed aspects of assessment (like Thembi’s post on Active Learning Strategies, Meredith’s post on Academic Integrity, Alex’s post on Peer and Self-Assessment and my previous post, Keeping Watch on using assessment to track our students’ progress), so here is a post with some handy references on assessment and rubric development.
In the old days, students would now start cramming, revising knowledge and processes, going to the library and doing old exam papers hoping their lecturer would just revise the last year’s paper for this year.
Nowadays, we hope those student expectations are well behind us and the last assignment encapsulates the skills, knowledge and the application skills and knowledge into a capstone assessment experience to confirm the student has achieved the course (subject) learning outcomes.
In pondering assessment we should never lose sight of what assessment is, and its purpose. As a reminder, here are the core principles of assessment from The University of Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education:
- Assessment guides and encourages effective approaches to learning
- Assessment validates and reliably measures expected learning outcomes, in particular the higher–order learning that characterises higher education
- Assessment and grading defines and protects academic standards.
At this stage of the year, principle 1 should have provided students with tasks that permitted them to test their learning and understanding in their passage towards the achieving the learning outcomes. The best scenario would be student-lecturer negotiated, multiple learning and assessment tasks that were designed to increase in complexity over the semester.
Principle 2 reminds us that we should not be simply testing students’ knowledge, but more their application of skills and knowledge and their ability to independently think though increasingly complex problems associated with their intended discipline. And we must grade each student in a reliable and repeatable manner. More on how we do that later.
Principle 3 helps maintain our standards. Not only do we have to assess if they have achieved the course learning outcomes, but also how well they have achieved it with reference to industry standards and moderation across institutions. Painfully for a teacher, we also must decide if a student has not achieved the learning outcomes.
Using the results from several forms of assessment during the semester, we need a framework to grade effectively. We need to have a considered series of statements that allow us to assign an overall grade to each student. They are like performance indicators. These statements are incremental performance levels of the learning outcomes. The levels are based on professional judgement, industry expectations and the quality standards of the university.
Commonly referred to as rubrics, you should develop a set of guidelines for marking and grading. They are not rules, but a framework to help you and your co-assessors be consistent across the group of students, from year to year and to maintain the academic quality standards expected by your industry/discipline and the students’ future employers. Your institution also relies on your professional judgement to uphold the standard of its awards.
Some argue that rubrics are restrictive, but with a well-developed set of rubrics, time is saved, consistency is improved, standards are upheld, and the course remains constructively aligned — the rubrics being generated from the learning outcomes. Levels of attainment between are documented and described for the students to see. These can be a little bit fuzzy in their generic form but discussion with students, providing exemplars and using the same rubrics for peer and self-assessment can enhance all participants’ understanding of what a rubric is trying to do. Rubrics can be applied to all types of assessments: essays, drawings, pictures, models, presentations, designs and films.
The links below have some useful reading on rubrics, their purpose, value and how to write them:
Unfortunately some students, despite all attempts by us, fail to provide us with the evidence they have achieved the learning outcomes. The result is then a fail. There wouldn’t be a lecturer or educator who does it lightly, but it’s part of upholding the professionalism of our discipline, and the standards of our university. The determined learner who fails will return and do the course again, learning from their mistakes, and hopefully will achieve a better mark the next time around.
So before you start marking this semester try developing your own rubrics. Start by writing your learning outcomes on the left of a table, and then use grade descriptors of what you would expect to see from the students in the boxes. Your learning and teaching advisor can help you create them and your results will be fairer and more consistent. Rubrics are also a great help when marking online or if you have several tutors performing the assessment. What’s more, you can save time!
Well my last student is graded, so I’m off to a BBQ tonight and out into the ocean (Bass Strait) for a sail on the weekend.
I hope you have an enjoyable break.
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