Assessment literacy

I said I’d post on two topics from the Assessment in Higher Education Conference. This is actually another one (my ‘second’ topic will follow), but noticing (a) Tim Hunt’s excellent summary of some of the things I wanted to say and (b) that this is my 200th post, I wanted to talk about something that I care about passionately. I’m picking up on ideas from Margaret Price’s keynote at the conference and from Tim’s summary, but this is essentially my own take on…Assessment literacy.

We wonder why some of our students plagiarise. We wonder why, when they are allowed to repeat iCMA questions as often as they want to, some students click through so as to get the ‘right answer’ for entry text time, so as to get the credit – without looking at our lovingly crafted feedback. The simple answer is that many of our students don’t share our understanding of what assessment is for. We may think we are firmly in the  ‘assessment for learning’ mode, but if our students don’t understand that, what’s the point?

This is related to the problem that arises when students don’t understand an assessment task or the feedback provided, but the problem I’m describing is at a higher level. I’m talking about students simply not ‘getting’ what we think assessment is for – we want assessment to drive learning, but they remain driven by marks. To be fair to our students, I think that in many cases I’m talking about students simply not ‘getting’ what assessment is for because we don’t tell them – so perhaps there is an easy solution. I think the same is true of other aspects of teaching and learning, and it would help if we remembered that our students are not necessarily ‘like us’, so sometimes we need to explain our motivations more explicitly.

I drew another point from Margaret’s keynote that I’d like to mention. We are too much driven by NSS scores. In that, perhaps we are very like our students, driven by marks…I suppose it is too much to hope that a day might come when we actually cared about our students and their learning rather than University X’s ranking in some artificial league table. Ah well, we can hope.

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