by SALLY MALE
In boards of examiners’ Meetings I feel the gravity of responsibility. We review dots on graphs and features of the grade distributions and associations. Every dot represents the grade of a hopeful student.
For students, fails could mean repeating units or missing graduate jobs. High distinctions could lead to jobs, postgraduate studies, scholarships, or longed-for entry to a competitive course. For society, a graduate without the capability certified by their grades could cost lives, or at least undermine faith in our graduates.
Educators now understand that assessments are multi-purpose. Through assessments, students can learn, receive feedback, develop authentic skills for work, and develop skills for self-directed lifelong learning. Through assessments, teachers can monitor students’ progress to adapt teaching approaches.
While the potential of assessment is extensive, we need to be sure that the approaches used to determine grades are fit for purpose also. For example, the Higher Education Standards Framework specifically requires that the “grades awarded reflect the level of student attainment” in Standard 1.4.3. As researchers we either select tested instruments, or we carefully develop instruments fit for the research purpose. As educators, we should determine grades with just as much care. Grading mechanisms should measure the prescribed learning outcomes and discriminate validly and reliably between defined grades. A grade should not depend on: who taught the student, who marked each assessment, which team the student was in, or the students’ sex or ethnicity.
Many approaches to ensure that grades are fit for purpose have been developed and appear in assessment policies. These include benchmarking, moderation during all stages of assessment, peer review, and vivas. The board of examiners’ Meeting should be one element in a coordinated, ongoing quality assured effort.
Informed by education measurement experts in our universities, all academics responsible for subjects should be supported to develop the skills and processes to ensure and apply high quality grading mechanisms. With pre-assurance of the grading mechanisms, Boards of Examiners could confidently focus on reviewing students’ precious grades.
Sally Male, Chair in Engineering Education, The University of Western Australia.
In April, Sally will join The University of Melbourne as Director of the Teaching and Learning Lab, Faculty of Engineering and IT, and Professor of Engineering and Technology Education.