Assessing student work

Assessing student work provides feedback to students on their learning and, more particularly, feedback on their level of performance of the intended learning outcomes. Receiving feedback on assessable work is integral to learning. It provides insights for learners to think and re-think what and how they are learning and the levels of competency they are achieving.

Providing feedback to students on assessed work gives them a ‘measure’ or an indication of the quality of their learning output. The feedback they receive may be measured against:

  • the standards of a set of criteria (ie. criterion referenced assessment), or
  • a measure that has been determined as a result of comparison with other students studying the same course and undertaking the same assessment task (ie. norm referenced assessment).

Frequently, grading of students under a norm referenced assessment regime means students will be sorted to ensure results are normally distributed (ie. the classic bell-shaped curve that has low numbers of high and low grades, with most of the population found in the ‘middle’).

Our practice at RMIT is to develop ‘formative and summative assessment that is criterion referenced and valid’ (RMIT Learning and Teaching Strategy 2007, p. 3). Therefore, your assessment design should consider the development of appropriate criteria that align with the goals and intended learning outcomes related to the assessment task and the course. Careful design of the criteria should allow students the opportunity to demonstrate increasing complexity of their understanding.

Your feedback to students should reflect on their performance in relation to the standards expected for each criterion. Making the standards explicit to students and teachers in the teaching team is good assessment practice. For example, some teachers may make their expectations transparent through the development of an assessment rubric that identifies the different levels of performance (or standards) expected for an assessment task’s set of criteria.

A tool you might find useful to assist you in developing such criteria is the SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) Taxonomy.

Assessing student work using rubrics allows students to see readily how well they have performed in relation to the criteria.

Moderation is another way to ensure standards are established and applied consistently to the work of a cohort of students within a course. RMIT’s Moderation and Validation of Assessment Policy and related procedures outline the principles and guidelines for establishing program moderation processes within Schools.

If you are encouraging the development of lifelong learning skills, you may encourage feedback from self and peers as a way for students to learn how to make their own judgements of their competence or that of their peers (self and peer assessment) in relation to criteria. This requires them to learn how to make judgements of their work to determine their ‘measures’ for a task. This is an essential lifelong learning skill that can help them in the workplace in problem solving and demonstrating initiative to work independently.


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