The Routledgefalmer Reader in Higher Education

By Malcolm Tight | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING

The differing perceptions of tutors and students

Effie Maclellan

Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 26, 4, 307−318, 2001


EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION

This article reports on a study of the theory and practice of assessment in one UK higher education institution, and reflects upon the relationship between this and students' learning strategies. It focuses on the differences between perceptions and practices, and between lecturers' beliefs and students' experiences.

This article was categorised in the introductory chapter as adopting a multivariate approach to researching course design. It makes use of a 40-item questionnaire, and analyses the responses of 80 lecturers and 130 third-year undergraduates. The questionnaire asked respondents to place their answers on a four-point scale: 'frequently', 'sometimes', 'never' and 'don't know'.

The author − possibly in response to one of the comments of a referee who reviewed the article in draft form − acknowledges that the questionnaire was a fairly blunt instrument, but justifies this in terms of efficient use of time. The findings are reported in straightforward fashion in terms of frequencies of response along the scale. Nevertheless, the article is an example of a very practical and achievable piece of research, and one that raises lots of important questions about higher education practices.

The findings reveal some contradictions, and form the basis for an interesting discussion. While staff reported that they favour assessment which is formative (i.e. developmental, diagnostic and motivating, and so enabling further learning) and authentic (i.e. assesses the full range of learning undertaken on a course), their students found that this was not reflected in practice. They felt that assessment was primarily summative (i.e. about grading and ranking their achievements), and was frequently not authentic. However, the students' understanding of assessment was seen as being less well developed than that of their lecturers, in part because the latter's portrayal of its practice and purposes was confusing.

Maclellan concludes by arguing in favour of a particular model of assessment, the 'standards model' which 'attempts to reflect what has been learned in criterion referenced terms'(Biggs 1999), and against the 'measurement model' which has been dominant historically, and remains so in higher education today.

Clearly, the key literature providing the context for Maclellan's article is that focusing on assessment practices in higher education. This is quite a substantive literature (e.g. Bridges et al. 2002, Brown et al. 1997, Brown and Glasner 1999, Brown and Knight 1994, Greer 2001, Heywood 2000, Holroyd 2000, Klenowski 2002, Leach et al. 2001, Mutch 2002, Stewart and Richardson 2000, Warren Piper 1994, Yorke et al. 2002). It evidences a

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