Assessment manifesto for change

Margaret Price, Berry O'Donovan, Chris Rust, Jude Carroll (ASKe)

Assessment lies at the heart of the student experience, consequently, serious issues with assessment raised by the National Student Survey and the Burgess Report must be addressed. In this presentation a manifesto for change, developed by an international forum of experts, will be discussed and its institutional applicability and its effect on the student experience explored.

The National Students Satisfaction Survey has once again confirmed how poorly students rate their experience with assessment and feedback. The conclusions of the Burgess Report pronounced the honours degree classification system ‘ no longer fit for purpose ’ and identified a range of problems including the reliability and communication of assessment standards. Such problems persist despite a good deal of interest and research into assessment and feedback. Assessment standards are important not only for public accountability but also, and perhaps more importantly, for student learning. As Sadler (1989) argues an important condition for improvement in student learning is that “ the student comes to hold a concept of quality roughly similar to that held by the teacher ” . Consequently, a long term sustainable resolution is urgently needed that addresses issues with establishing and communicating assessment standards. Unfortunately, the solution proposed by the Burgess Report focuses on the communication of outcomes rather than on how assessment standards are established and shared.

The deliberations of more than 50 international experts while participating in a two day colloquium (November, 2007) hosted by ASKe Centre for Excellence resulted in the development of a manifesto for change. Two perspectives underpin the manifesto. Firstly, shared assessment standards reside in academic and professional communities and in the nature and level of tasks in which learners engage rather than just in statements of learning outcomes or marking criteria. Secondly, learners, who engage in assessment, are entitled to fair and transparent assessment practices and standards. The manifesto identifies six high level and pervasive changes designed to establish, maintain and effectively communicate assessment standards which genuinely engender and support improvements to student learning. This area abounds with principles of good practice, however, there has been very little progress to-date towards implementation. This manifesto is a call to action.