13 July 2010

Phases of assessment

Australian university students complain repeatedly about the quality and timeliness of the feedback they receive, and yet academic teachers know that not all of their students take the time to read and reflect on the feedback that is provided. Increasingly, those researching the role of assessment in higher education are seeing it as a lever for change in curriculum design practice, for more productive and focussed student learning, and as a tool to build on support mechanisms, particularly for first year students.

Sally Kift, in her recent presentation at the University, drew our attention to an article by Janet Taylor, in which she outlines a model for assessment design that addresses six important aspects.

Taylor (2008) says that an assessment strategy must:

1. include both formative and summative items,

2. assist students to negotiate and access the culture of the university,

3. meet student needs in terms of timing of deadlines,

4. ensure that students get good feedback as early as possible,

5. assist students to develop "self-regulatory" behaviours, and

6. avoid unreasonable workloads for both staff and students.
Her model divides the study session into three overlapping phases:

Phase 1, at the beginning of the study session (e.g. weeks 1-4 in a 13 week session), is when students complete assessment for transition activities: low contribution to final grades, low to no marking involved – reflective activities like study plans and learning contracts.

In weeks 3-9, students complete assessment for development activities, characterised by items that carry marks that make a low to middle contribution to the final grade, but provide extensive feedback, e.g. draft essays, reading logs, notes on a literature review, or materials prepared as part of a portfolio. Time allocated to marking on the part of the academic should be, Taylor says, "relatively high".

The final phase (weeks 7-13), assessment for achievement, is characterised by summative activities with a high weighting – that is, they have a relatively high influence on the final grade, e.g. examinations, final reports or essays or portfolios.

adapted from Figure 1: Strategies for assessment (Taylor, 2008)

Taylor says that assessment tasks in the first phase should require little marking time, but allow staff to identify students who might struggle. The activities that fall in the assessment for development group are the core of any first year course. "Once engagement is established by the early assessments, the task of the middle assessments is to maintain the engagement and develop and confirm students' skills and knowledge". (Taylor, 2008) The assessment activities in the final phase carry most weight towards the final mark, but are generally submitted too late to be of any real use to the student looking for guidance, so feedback can be kept to a minimum. Her argument is that the earlier an assessment item is due, the more feedback it should provide and the less weight it should carry in the overall, final mark.

It's worth reading the whole article; the model is useful for anyone designing an assessment strategy, not only those concerned with the first year experience.

Taylor, J. A. (2008). Assessment in First Year University: A model to manage transition. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice. 5(1), Article 3. http://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp.

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