Four ideas to support the development of assessment strategies

Four ideas to support the development of assessment strategies
1. Reversed alignment
Why is alignment important?
‘The alignment of assessment with other features of a course is the basis of course design and
central to effective assessment. The model shown in Figure 1 summarises the relationships. If the
aims are unclear then the system crumbles. Clear and realistic outcomes provide students with a
good guide to what has to be learnt and lecturers with a guide on how to teach and what learning
opportunities to provide. Relevant learning opportunities help students to achieve the learning
outcomes. Effective assessment methods and tasks are related to the learning outcomes and the
methods of learning. If the criteria are too fuzzy or unduly specific then it is difficult for assessors to
ensure consistency of judgement and for students to fulfil the demands of the assessment task.
Without close links between feedback, criteria and the assessment tasks, lecturers cannot help
students to achieve the learning outcomes of a course or a programme’.
Brown 2001
Aligning Assessment
Intended Learning Outcomes
Methods of Learning
Assessment methods and tasks
What is reversed alignment?
Given that assessment is such an important driver of student activity and learning, the suggestion
is that we start by defining the aims and then move straight to identifying the assessment strategy
and/or the particular type(s) of assignment(s) which will be used the module. The details about the
methods of learning and even the fine detail about the intended learning outcomes can follow.
Realistically the whole process is much more iterative. Ideas about assessment will be
interspersed with thoughts about learning activities, an emerging syllabus and intended learning
outcomes. However, by bringing assessment to the forefront in this process it is more likely that
valid and varied assessment experiences will result.
Source: Brown G (2001) Assessment: a guide for lecturers. York: LTSN /HEA
2. Involving students
Research undertaken at Oxford Brookes (Rust,2003) shows that if students are highly
engaged in the whole assessment process
• their experience of assessment (as they report it in evaluation surveys including the NSS)
• they are more likely to achieve good results
Active student engagement
4.The ‘Cultivated’ Community of Practice
3.The Social Constructivist Approach
Actively engagement of students in
formal processes devised to
communicate tacit knowledge of
The Future
2. The ‘DominantLogic’ ExplicitModel
Standards explicitly articulated (with
limitations) and passively presented
to students.
The Past
Tacit standards communicated through
participation in informal knowledge
exchange networks ‘seeded’ by specific
1.The Traditional Model
Tacit standards absorbed over
relatively longer times
informally and serendipitously.
Passive student engagement
Who does what in your assignments? Normally the students do the assessment task and the tutor
does everything else. Using self and peer assessment this can change:
Who decides? Tutor
Tutor and students
Groups of students
in negotiation
Designs the assessment scheme
Sets the assignment
Sets the Assessment criteria
Introduces the Assessment task
Support for Assessment process
Marks and grades work
Gives feedback
Attends assessment panel
Source: Rust,C., Price,M. and O’Donovan, B. (2003) Improving students’ learning by developing
their understanding of assessment criteria and processes. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher
Education Vol 28, No.2 147-164
3. Efficiency vs effectiveness
Can assessment be both efficient and effective?
In deciding which assignments to use Hornby (2003) argues that we need to find those which are
resource efficient (they can be managed by staff without taking up excessive amounts of time) and
effective (they meet the needs of the programme and are valid measures of student attainment;
they should also provide opportunities for learning and for giving feedback)
Through the work of the Scottish Higher Education Enhancement Committee (Hornby 2003)
several types of assignment where shown to be effective and efficient (see diagram).
There are clearly disciplinary differences in the approaches to assessment which are seen to be
appropriate, efficient and effective. However, the Scottish enhancement project identifies five which
are widely used:
Strategic Reduction of Summative Assessment
Front-end loading
In Class Assessment
Self and Peer assessment
Group Assessment
Automated assessment
Source: Hornby, Win (2003) Dogs, Stars, Rolls Royces and Old Double Decker Buses: Efficiency
and effectiveness in assessment accessed online at
4. Rationalising assessment
Students interviewed at a recent Higher Education Academy conference asked for better planning
of the spread of their assignments and suggested that:
• module leaders should have a system for seeing where others are planning to place
assessments to avoid assessment deadline ‘hot spots’;
• online assessment calendars should be made available to students within their VLE on
which they can see the spread of assignments for their chosen modules
A more radical approach to rationalizing involves using programmatic (whole programme) or
level (based on each year) assessment. Brown (2001) develops this idea:
‘The outcomes based approach to assessment design (see 1. Reverse alignment) leaves open the
questions of whether the outcomes that are being assessed should be those of the degree
programme or those of the module (or short course) and whether every learning outcome should
be assessed. There are arguments for and against the use of programme or module outcomes as
the basis for assessment tasks. If one opts for assessing every outcome of every module then one
runs the risk of over-assessing students – and UK students are probably the most overassessed
students in Europe. If one opts for programme outcomes one risks not assessing essential
knowledge and skills but one has a framework for estimating student progression and
On balance, the better strategy is to ensure that within each module, teaching and learning
opportunities are provided which move the students closer to the programme outcomes and that
some programme outcomes are assessed in some of the modules so that by the end of the
programme all the outcomes have been assessed at each level on at least two occasions. This
approach ensures that one has repeated and therefore probably more reliable measures of
achievement, and a realistic, not unduly burdensome approach to assessment. A matrix of the
learning outcomes of a programme and the assessments used in different modules helps one to
identify the links between programme outcomes and their assessment’.
Designing the matrix as part of an assessment strategy…..
Learning outcome
(from a programme)
Module(s) it is
assessed in
Type of assessment
Brief details of
Source: Brown G (2001) Assessment: a guide for lecturers. York: LTSN /HEA