Guiding Principles for Student Assessment in Higher Education

As institutions rapidly transformed the delivery of student learning, the pandemic drew attention to the importance of student assessment in higher education.  Postsecondary institutions continue to grapple with the opportunities and challenges that assessment practices present across multiple organizational levels, whether in individual courses, across academic programs, or as it relates to institutional structures, policies, and processes.

Gibbs (2006) affirmed that assessment is key to student learning, often driving what, when and how students learn. Boud (2000) challenged us to rethink all components of assessment to create more sustainable and meaningful assessment practices to support student learning. More recently, authors such as Jones et al. (2021) have highlighted that wellbeing must be a key consideration for assessment practices in higher education. Technological developments such as artificial intelligence (AI) have become more prevalent in supporting practices related to assessment design and delivery, e-proctoring, grading and feedback, and learning analytics – while also presenting numerous ethical dilemmas and risks (Zawacki-Richter, et al., 2019; Eaton and Turner, 2020). Attention has also been focussed on how assessment practices can further support (or hinder) equity, diversity, inclusion, accessibility, and social justice in higher education (Tai et al., 2023).

There is no doubt that student assessment in higher education is complex and important.  When addressing complexity, I tend towards using principles as a guide. Building upon the excellent work of Boud (2000), Gibbs and Simpson (2005), Gibbs (2006), Jones et al. (2021), Lindstrom et al. (2017) and recent work done at McGill University (2022), I’ve curated the following principles as a starting point for conversation and decision-making related to student assessment in higher education:

  1. Meaningful assessment practices shift the focus of assessment from evaluating, ranking, or judging student performance to ensuring assessment is an integral and intentional component of student learning experiences.
  2. Assessment practices should foster on-going learning and growth. Assessment tasks should be structured and scaffolded progressively, to ensure the development of expertise and confidence overtime, with appropriate challenge, feedback, and practice. Assessment should recognize and validate multiple disciplinary, scholarly, and culturally-relevant approaches and ways of knowing.
  3. Assessment practices should be equitable, fair, accessible, and inclusive. A variety of assessment methods should be utilized and provide some level of flexibility and choice to maximize student engagement, foster accessibility, and encourage student involvement in the assessment process. Assessment practices should draw upon the principles and practices of universal design for learning.  Grading practices should be based on transparent standards and criteria, rather than norms, ranks, or distributions.
  4. Assessment practices should be developmental and provide opportunities for feedback, self-regulated learning, and metacognition. There should be a balance between summative and formative assessment processes, with multiple opportunities for students to reflect on, receive, respond to, and use feedback on their learning.  Feedback opportunities should be encouraged from multiple perspectives (e.g., self-reflection, peers, course instructors, and/or teaching assistants).
  5. Assessment practices should foster academic integrity. Assessment design should uphold the values of integrity and be relevant to learning goals. Expectations related to assessments, and the policies and procedures related to academic integrity should be clearly communicated.
  6. Assessment should be recognized as a core element in the planning and design of course and program learning experiences. Assessment practices should be transparent, providing students with clear expectations on their assessments, and how they align with the teaching and learning goals, and approaches for the course/program/discipline. Institutional and unit-level supports should be available to ensure course instructors and teaching assistants have opportunities to develop expertise in developing and supporting scholarly, relevant, and meaningful assessment practices.
  7. Assessment practices should be sustainable and align with a commitment to supporting well-being for students, faculty, and staff. Expectations related to assessment practices should be transparent and clearly communicated to students. The design and scheduling of assessment tasks should consider a reasonable time to complete the assessment, be appropriate to the credit-weighting, recognize the cumulative distribution of assessment tasks throughout the semester, and support sustainable workloads for students, course instructors and teaching assistants.

What’s missing from these principles ?  What would you change or add? How could you imagine using and building upon these principles within your own local context?

References

Boud, D. (2000). Sustainable assessment: rethinking assessment for the learning society. Studies in Continuing Education, 22, 2, 151-167

Eaton, S. E., & Turner, K. L. (2020). Exploring academic integrity and mental health during COVID-19: Rapid review. Journal of Contemporary Education Theory & Research (JCETR)4(2), 35-41.

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (2005). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and teaching in higher education, (1), 3-31.

Gibbs, G. (2006). How assessment frames student learning. In Innovative assessment in higher education (pp. 43-56). Routledge.

Jones, E., Priestley, M., Brewster, L., Wilbraham, S. J., Hughes, G., & Spanner, L. (2021). Student wellbeing and assessment in higher education: the balancing act. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education46(3), 438-450.

Lindstrom, G., Taylor, L., Weleschuk, A. (2017) Guiding Principles for Assessment of Student Learning. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning Guide Series. Calgary, AB: Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary, June 2017. https://taylorinstitute.ucalgary.ca/sites/default/files/Guiding_Principles_for_Assessment_of_Student_Learning_FINAL.pdf

McGill University (Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal Academic)  (2022) Policy on Assessment of Student Learning (pp. 3-11) in 512th REPORT OF THE ACADEMIC POLICY COMMITTEE TO SENATE on the APC meetings held on April 14th and May 2nd, 2022 McGill University. https://www.mcgill.ca/senate/files/senate/03_d21-58_512th_apc_report_0.pdf

Tai, J., Ajjawi, R., Boud, D., Jorre de St. Jorre, T. (2023) Promoting equity and social justice through assessment for inclusion. In pp 9-18. Ajjawi et al. (Eds). Assessment for Inclusion in Higher Eduation: Promoting Equity and Social Justice in Assessment. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/oa-edit/10.4324/9781003293101/assessment-inclusion-higher-education-rola-ajjawi-joanna-tai-david-boud-trina-jorre-de-st-jorre

Zawacki-Richter, O., Marín, V. I., Bond, M., & Gouverneur, F. (2019). Systematic review of research on artificial intelligence applications in higher education–where are the educators?. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education16(1), 1-27.

Author: natashakenny

Senior Director, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. Interdisciplinary academic and professional background in educational development, landscape architecture, urban planning and environmental science.

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