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Assessment really does matter …

29 June 2012

Assessment matters

“It certainly matters to our students, and to our academic staff,” according to Andy Lloyd, Manager of the University’s Assessment Matters Project.  The project, now in its second year of development, was established to enhance academic feedback to students and improve consistency in assessment processes and practice.  It was set up in recognition of the fact that the management of assessment, within and between Schools, had over time become very varied and potentially unclear to students. 

This edition of Blas has been put together to update staff on the significant progress that has been made in the last two years and to outline the timetable for further work and full implementation of the project.

It includes:

  • Information on the new award rules for modular programmes;
  • An update on the improvements being made to academic feedback;
  • Information about the related changes being made to assessment processes; and
  • An indication of future plans and developments.

The experience of undertaking the project has also helped reinforce the view that assessment remains an area in higher education that has many components and inter-related elements.  It is an aspect of academic practice that can be difficult to get right.  Professor Jonathan Osmond, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students, who leads the project, has identified good curriculum design and ongoing review as fundamental to success:  “It is best if curriculum, teaching, and assessment methods are conceived as a coherent whole,” said Professor Osmond.

“Since modularisation we have, I believe, in many of our schemes allowed assessments to proliferate, to the detriment of both student and staff workloads. A variety of assessment methods – a welcome development – should not and need not mean over-assessment.  It is partly for these reasons that Senate has agreed that all modular programmes should adopt modules that have at least 20 credits, by the start of academic session 2017/18. There will be scope for special cases, but these will be by exception.”

Assessment matters 2

New Award Rules - “So, what do I have to do to get a 2.1?”

The myriad of ways that different programmes and Schools have used to calculate final award classifications, and the ability of Examining Boards to use discretion at the ‘borderlines’ will disappear with the implementation of the limited number of progression and award rule sets that have been approved by Senate.  The impact of these changes will provide significant greater clarity and transparency for students and help protect the standards of our awards.

Changes to the rules governing modular taught postgraduate programmes will be introduced at the start of session 2012/13.  The most significant change is the introduction of a ‘merit’ classification, in addition to that of ‘distinction’, which will be awarded to students who achieve a final mark between 60 and 69 (and for Master’s students, both a mark of at least 60 in their dissertation and an average of 55 in the taught modules). Students and staff have for several years been calling for the introduction of ´merit´, to bring Cardiff into line with comparator institutions. This is a timely moment to make the change.

The new rules for modular undergraduate programmes will be introduced across all cohorts in session 2013/14, with the caveat that arrangements will be put in place to ensure that no student who has already taken assessments that contribute to degree classifications will end up with a lower class of degree than they would have previously.  The rules have been carefully designed to have no significant impact on the spread of degree classifications and extensive modelling has been undertaken to ensure that the pattern of degree results will be in line with that achieved by previous cohorts.  The rules will help ensure that students can work out the degree class they can expect from module marks, an added transparency that will be of benefit to all.

Implementation of the new rules will be facilitated through the assessment and progression management tools within SIMS.  This will be less resource intensive for Schools, as marks will be input throughout the year and progression and award decisions will be calculated automatically.  Ongoing communication and consultation with staff and students will be undertaken to help ensure that everyone is ready for implementation.  This will help ensure that the University gets maximum benefit from what is a significant and important change.  Full details of the new rules and a series of FAQs are available online.

Assessment matters 3

Academic Feedback – Could Do Better?

Following Senate approval in June 2011 of a University Policy and Guidance on Academic Feedback work is being undertaken to support implementation of the Policy and share effective practice across Schools.  A number of workshops have been held in schools to help staff enhance practice and develop a better shared understanding of what constitutes good feedback to students.  A web-based collection of resources and examples of good practice has also been developed.

To help ensure that improvement continues to be made in this area a second University-wide event is to be held on Tuesday 3rd July 2012.  As well as featuring a keynote address from Professor Margaret Price, Professor of Learning and Assessment at Oxford Brookes University and Director of the Pedagogy Research Centre including ASKe, and a presentation from Stephanie Lloyd, President Elect of NUS Wales, the event will aim to provide an opportunity for staff to share examples of practice with colleagues.  Online bookings for the event can be made here

Professor Stephen Denyer, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students stressed the importance of continuing to improve practice in this area. “By reviewing practices together we have an ideal opportunity to learn from each other and identify how we can further improve the student experience, said Professor Denyer”.

Assessment 4

Marking, Mitigation and Making Changes to Assessment Practice

To support the major developments being undertaken by the project a number of other changes to assessment policies and procedures are being made.  These include:

Examining Boards - New Regulations to articulate better the role and function of Examining Boards (including External Examiners), both in terms of confirming awards and monitoring quality and standards.  These will be introduced at the same time as the changes to award rules.

Extenuating Circumstances – Improved information to students and better definition of the role that will be undertaken by Extenuating Circumstances Groups in Schools.  Further work will also be undertaken through session 2012/13 to revise the remedies available to Examining Boards where students have had Extenuating Circumstances.

The next major area that the project is to review is marking practice.  Work will be undertaken through session 2012/13 to support Schools in a review of assessment criteria and the Regulations that safeguard quality and standards in this area, such as double marking. The latter is practised in many different ways and with different purposes across the University, and now is an opportune time to consider whether in all cases it is necessary and appropriate.

Reviewing practice in these areas provides an opportunity for the University to improve academic feedback and to involve students in a genuine partnership to enhance the student experience and academic standards.