Implications of evaluation of Formative Thresholded Assessment 1

As I said in my last post, the most powerful finding from this evaluation is the fact that many of our students, and also many of our staff, have a very poor understanding of our assessment strategies. And it is not just the ‘new’ assessment strategies that they don’t understand; they also have poor understanding of the more conventional assessment strategies that we have been using for years and years. So what are the issues? I believe that whilst the first of these may be particular to the Open University, the others are of more general applicability.

1. Our students (and a worryingly large number of our staff) assume that when a module has summative continuous assessment, this contributes to their overall score. The reality is…. it does and it doesn’t. In order to pass a module, or to achieve a particular grade of pass, a student needs to get above a certain threshold in both the continuous assessment and the examinable component separately. So even if you do exceptionally well in the continuous assessment, you will still fail the module if you don’t do sufficiently well in the examinable component. I just don’t think we make this point sufficiently clear to our students. For example, I still come across text that talks about a 50:50 weighting of continuous assessment and examinable component. Given that you have to pass separate thresholds for the two, the weighting is a complete red herring!

2. My second point is a general conclusion from my first. We need to make our assessment strategies clear.

3. We  need to avoid unnecessary complication. Some of our assessment strategies are incredibly complex. The complexity has usually arisen because of someone wanting to do something innovative, creative, and with the best interests of our students in mind. But sometimes it is just too much..

4. We need to adopt practice that is consistent or at least coherent across a qualification, rather than having different strategies on each module. More on that to follow. I have no wish to stymie creativity, but when you stand back and look at the variations in practice from module to module, it is not at all surprising that students get confused.

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