Denise Chalmers

  • When the best of intentions is not enough: the imperative for educational leadership in assessment

    Denise Chalmers, The University of Queensland

    Janice Orrell, Flinders University

    Conceptual paper

    Theme: implementing and managing change and innovation and institutional strategies

    Assessment of student’s learning attainment is a high stakes activity for all concerned and is highly contestable. As a consequence, a ssessment practices in higher education have come under considerable scrutiny by employers, government and funding bodies, quality agencies and the institutions themselves.

    We argue the shortcomings that are all too apparent in assessment practices across the higher education sector are symptoms rather than causes of the overall assessment problem and that the solution is not in dealing with the individual problems observed in the practice of assessment. They merely flag that the practice and management of assessment is enacted as sets of atomistic activities, carried out in isolation of each other. We believe that academic leadership, based upon a high level of assessment literacy, is necessary if we are to achieve real change in assessment. Such leadership needs to be (1) based in a holistic vision that is grounded in the diverse and sometimes competing purposes of assessment, and (2) accompanied by complementary management strategies. The vision needs to account not only for the purposes of assessment but the accompanying assessment processes, policies and practices. All these need to be understood as parts of a whole; rather than the more atomistic and piecemeal approach which is evidenced in our current practice.

    This paper will provide a framework of leadership and management of assessment (Middlehurst, 1993) that encompasses multiple organisational levels and involves both administrative and academic staff. The framework problematises assessment and provides a solution generated from engaging theories of leadership and management with the theoretical dimensions of assessment to address the gaps and limitations that confound assessment in higher education.


    • Middlehurst, R (1993). Leading Academics. Buckingham: The Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) and Open University Press.