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Assessment and feedback

Assessment involves multiple and complex purposes but is at the heart of effective programme and module design and delivery, and plays a crucial role in student learning.  This page provides information and links to University policy, regulations and guidance on assessment, with links to resources, case studies and research drawn from within and beyond the University.

The Standing Committee on Assessment is the university body which may develop, consider, monitor and review policies and procedures relating to the assessment and progression of all taught and research students studying on programmes leading to a qualification of the university (sca@york.ac.uk). Comprehensive information on regulations, policy and guidance on assessment and feedback at the University is available in the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback.

The Programme Design and Learning Technology team provides a point of contact University Departments to discuss the development and implementation of assessment on all the key areas presented on these web pages.

We can provide frameworks for Departments to use when reflecting on their assessment processes, and to develop and evaluate approaches to formative and summative assessment at programme level.  We can also provide support for module teams on the development of formative and summative assessments for individuals and groups, criteria, feedback options and activities to promote engagement with criteria and feedback. We can also advise on the use of learning technologies for formative and summative assessment.

We are available to Departmental contacts such as Chairs of Boards of Studies, Chairs of Teaching Committees, VLE coordinators, programme and module leaders, and Departmental and Programme Support Staff via the following email address: programme-design@york.ac.uk / vle-support@york.ac.uk.

Assessment for, not just of, learning

At a Departmental and programme level, there is a requirement for the development and sharing of explicit criteria for marking and moderation to facilitate a clear and consistent approach to standards and grading for all assessments and reassessments (in line with the University’s principles of equity, openness, clarity and consistency).  This is dealt with in section 14 of the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback.   

Beyond the goals of certification and grading, however, there is a need to acknowledge the ‘dual duty’ performed by assessment (Boud, 2000) and of the major impact it has on learning, the messages it conveys to students about ‘what counts’ in the programme and discipline and about what they need to do (and become) to succeed. This suggests that assessment should be designed to drive as well as measure student learning through an ‘assessment for not just of learning’ approach.  A well-designed summative assessment can act as a driver for learning by making clear to students what the expectations are and how they should be demonstrated. Integration with formative activity and assessment along with support and feedback on progress can also provide students with a ‘roadmap’ for how they can meet these expectations and a means of monitoring their progress.   

Two key concepts related to the development of assessment for learning are ‘feedback literacy’ which is described as “the  understandings, capacities and dispositions  needed to make sense of information and use  it to enhance work or learning strategies”(Carless and Boud, 2018) and ‘evaluative judgment’ which is “the ability of students to ‘assess the quality of their own work, and the work of others” (Ajjawi et al., 2018). 

Both these concepts relate to the idea that assessments should support learning and the need to develop the capacity of students to judge the quality of their own work and make use of feedback information.  These are seen as essential skills that need to be developed not just for success within the immediate context of a modular assessment and its relationship with the programme and discipline, but beyond the point of graduation.   

Clear criteria and processes for assessment remain essential, but the focus extends beyond the goal of achieving validity and reliability of measurement and testing.  Further work is done to consider how these are shared with students to maximise their impact on learning and to promote students’ own capability to understand quality and assess their work.  Criteria and feedback are not unidirectional and ‘given’ to students, but systematic opportunities are provided to develop students’ own ability to understand criteria in all their complexity and judge the effectiveness of their own work appropriately.  They are likely to involve activities such as rubric development, use of exemplars, self -assessment, peer assessment and feedback mechanisms, and a shift in approaches to the use of such activities from ‘transmission’ uses to more active dialogic approaches.  In implementing such approaches, a programme-level approach is recommended, systematically introducing and developing tasks of increasing sophistication through the stages of a programme.

 

Feedback literacy

Feedback literacy is framed primarily as an individual set of competencies that are likely to maximise a student’s ability to take action as a result of feedback (appreciating feedback, making judgements, and managing affect).  

         

(Carless and Boud, 2018, p.1319) 

Appreciating feedback

Feedback literate students:

  1. understand and appreciate the role of feedback in improving work and the active learner role in these processes;

  2. recognise that feedback information comes in different forms and from different sources;

  3. use technology to access, store and revisit feedback.

Making judgments

Feedback literate students:

  1. develop capacities to make sound academic judgments about their own work and the work of others;

  2. participate productively in peer feedback processes;

  3. refine self-evaluative capacities over time in order to make more robust judgments.

  4. Managing affect

Managing affect

Feedback literate students:

  1. maintain emotional equilibrium and avoid defensiveness when receiving critical feedback;

  2. are  proactive  in eliciting  suggestions from peers or teachers and continuing dialogue with them as needed;

  3. develop habits of striving for continuous improvement on the basis of internal and external feedback.

Taking action

Feedback literate students:

  1. are aware of the imperative to take action in response to feedback information;

  2. draw  inferences from a range of feedback experiences for the purpose of  continuous improvement;

  3. develop a repertoire of strategies for acting on feedback.

 Carless and Boud (2018) identify two key activities which can provide a useful vehicle for the development of feedback literacy:  Peer feedback processes and analysis of exemplars.  In both cases, they suggest that activities need training and support for students to maximise the benefits and that this should be focused on dialogue about process and strategies related to assessment and feedback, not simply on the specifics of particular pieces of work. They recommend starting such activities early and providing regular opportunities to engage in activities of increasing sophistication throughout a programme.

Evaluative judgment

This is described as “the capability to make decisions about the quality of work of self and others” (Tai et al. 2017, 471).  Boud (2018) positions this as a skill that needs explicit attention not just in the immediate context of a particular assessment for a module and how this connects to the programme level, but also as a fundamental skill post graduation.

Boud suggests that an integrated and staged approach is needed involving both teaching and learning activities and assessment tasks, and sustained development beyond the module level. Underpinning this, he called for a greater recognition of the complex and tacit knowledge involved in assessment and its criteria, that we should acknowledge this, ‘let students in’ and develop more realistic and (if necessary) holistic criteria as a start point for critical thinking rather an attempt to fully and explicitly represent quality and practice which can lead to atomisation and box-ticking approaches. Key suggestions include:

Learning activities

  • Identifying standards and criteria (students encouraged to develop their own ideas before being provided with definitive criteria)

  • Utilising criteria (regular opportunities to practise making judgements; tasks with increasing levels of sophistication; making space for discussion of nuances and complexity; referencing programme and stage outcomes)  

    • Use of exemplars (incorporating dialogue about multiple contrasting examples; starting with more extreme examples working towards finer degrees of discrimination)

    • Self assessment (over time and over multiple tasks)

    • Peer assessment (focused on giving rather than receiving feedback; formative and qualitative rather than focused on grading)

Assessment tasks

  • Incorporating prior self-assessments

  • Integrating feedback dialogue (feedback focused on calibration and the quality of students’ own assessment of their work; opportunities for students to communicate what they were aiming for beforehand and to discuss outcomes)

  • Including opportunities for post-feedback learning action planning

Use of criteria sets

For grading

Section 14.1 of the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback outlines the responsibilities at department, programme and module level related to outlining and refining standards.  In many cases, this involves attempts to provide explicit statements of expectations mapped to grade bands, appropriate to the stage, and specific to the assessment format. These can then be used for calibration and moderation purposes across marking teams and for documenting standards and marking processes for external examination processes.  

For formative activities

It is common practice to use such criteria sets to provide students with information about their assessment, and of the standards and expectations by which their assessed work will be judged. Maximising the benefits for such criteria from an assessment for learning perspective is likely to involve a shift from ‘telling’ students what these criteria are towards activities helping them to understand and apply the criteria to their own work.  This can involve activities such as:

  • Opportunities for students to discuss and identify their own criteria before they are provided with definitive criteria sets

  • Opportunities to apply criteria to exemplars (presenting a variety of exemplars to avoid ‘model answers’, incorporating dialogue about multiple contrasting examples; starting with more extreme examples working towards finer degrees of discrimination)

  • Opportunities for formative activities informed by reference to the criteria (e.g. peer and self assessment activities)

 

Ajjawi et al. (2018) recommend that such activities are systematically embedded across programmes and involve attention to the processes and strategies of assessment and feedback rather than an exclusive focus on the specifics of particular pieces of work.  This may make it more likely that such activities raise awareness of the complexities involved in standards to promote critical thinking and avoid the potential dangers of ‘box-ticking’ approaches. 

It can be difficult to find space for such activities within timetabled activities and to maximise their potential benefits, ‘flipped classroom’ approaches can be used.  These may be particularly beneficial where exemplars or peer feedback activities are used involving time to read and consider pieces of work before considering them in the light of the assessment criteria.  The examples can be provided online within the VLE (along with supported by activities designed to structure engagement such as online tests or reflective journal activities).  

For feedback provision on formative assignments

Formative assessments provide a key opportunity for students to explore and apply assessment criteria in a low stakes way to support them towards summative assessment.  From an assessment for learning perspective, it might be worth incorporating activities with a focus on feedback literacy/evaluative judgement so that time spent marking and providing feedback on formative submissions can be focused towards the development of self-reliance, and the ability to use feedback and apply criteria to work.  This is likely to involve dialogue rather than uni-directional feedback. Examples of possible approaches include:

  • Students attempt to apply the criteria to their own work and feedback is focused not only on the quality of the work in relation to the criteria, but also on the quality of the student’s own attempt to judge their work.  This may be beneficial from an evaluative judgment development perspective for all students regardless of the quality of their submission.

  • A peer-feedback approach is incorporated with appropriate support for students in giving and receiving feedback.

  • Reflective activities focused on the process of carrying out an assignment as well as on the end product, and incorporating, as appropriate, self assessment processes, requests for feedback on targeted aspects, or an action planning phase following receipt of feedback.

  • Options to support feedback dialogue within the VLE include the use of the journal tool for long-term reflective dialogue between students and staff.
    Case study: Students in the feedback loop 

Depending on the needs of the assessment, a broad range of approaches are possible.  For example:

Sethina Watson (History) replaced marking and return of written comments on submitted formative essays with a one-to-one face-to-face marking meeting focused on process as well as end product and incorporating a discussion about the criteria and the identification of actions for improvement.

Bill Soden (Education) provided screen recorded feedback talking students through aspects of their work which enabled him to provide more detailed feedback and provide a more personalised form of feedback to frame the affective impact of critical comments. 

Case study: Screencast commentary for formative feedback 

A wide range of approaches and tools can be used and the following page on formative assessment includes a summary of different feedback options for each.

For feedback provision on summative assignments

Feedback processes may be explicitly mapped to criteria statements to increase the efficiency, consistency and focus of feedback on summative work.  The use of rubric tables and feedback forms can provide a framework for such activities. These can be incorporated into the workflow for submission, marking and return of anonymous summative submissions delivered through the anonymous file submission tool within the VLE.  The following page provides guidance on summative feedback

Questions for reflection

  • How far have assessment criteria been standardised within your Department / programme?  
  • How far do you have a shared understanding of the nature and goals of assessment criteria?
  • Are there specific criteria sets for different assessment formats?  
  • Are the criteria sets specific to the stage?  
  • How do the criteria sets relate to programme learning outcomes?  
  • How far do the criteria sets include adequate specificity whilst avoiding rigid or prescriptive approaches?  
  • How are the criteria sets reviewed and what processes are in place to ensure that they are valid, reliable and useable by staff and students? 
  • How far do the criteria sets support marking, moderation and feedback activities for staff?
  • How are the criteria sets introduced to students?
  • Are they used to support formative activities and assessments?  
  • How far is there a programme-level focus on these activities?
  • How are criteria evaluated and adapted for future use?

 

Using exemplars

Exemplars can provide students with a rich source of information on standards and can form the basis of activities helping students to understand and apply criteria to their own work.  To avoid the potential dangers of students perceiving exemplars as ‘model answers’ to be copied, it is likely to be useful to provide a range of exemplars highlighting the different approaches taken and providing a framework for activities analysing and comparing different samples and applying the lessons learned to their own work.  

It is important that permission is secured from students for their work to be used as exemplar material with future cohorts.  For summative work (when using the VLE’s Anonymous Assignment tool to facilitate submissions), an option to add a permissions checkbox can be included on the submission page within the anonymous e-assignment for summative work  set up. Permission should also be sought for the use of formative assessments as exemplars.

 

Submission

Summative submission

Summative written assessments are usually handled using the anonymous file submission workflow.  This is handled by a tool within the VLE which is designed to preserve anonymity in accordance with University assessment policy and administration

For detailed guidance tailored to the different stakeholders involved in the process, please see the following pages on anonymous e-assignment for summative work.

Some Departments use the standard assignment tool within the VLE to handle summative submissions.

It is essential to liaise with Departmental administrative teams on summative assessment via the VLE.  The following guide provides an overview of assessment options within the VLE.   

Formative submission

A wide range of approaches and tools can be used and some key options are detailed on the following page on formative assessment

Feedback

Section 15 of the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback provides guidance and an overview of the University expectations related to feedback. Key principles underpinning the guidance are that feedback:

  • is acknowledged as an essential part of the learning process and as a major element in the relationship between lecturer and student;
  • is accepted as the purpose of assessment for learning (formative assessment) and a valued benefit of assessment of learning (summative assessment);
  • is planned into the curriculum and is linked to clear paths of progression;
  • is related clearly to the stated learning outcomes and specific assessment criteria;
  • is provided in a way that ensures it is useful, adequate, fair and timely (see 15.1.3).

Summative feedback 

Summative feedback guidance

Formative feedback

Written feedback

SoTL network page: Improving written feedback processes in mass higher education

Audio and video feedback 

The section above on using criteria sets for feedback on formative assignments provides further guidance on activities aiming to increase dialogic approaches to feedback such as self and peer-assessment and reflective activities.

 

Evaluating the assessment process

The following page provides information on evaluating assessment and feedback processes including advice on dealing with the fact that the timing of typical module assessments may mean that summative assessment and feedback processes are not included.

 

Authentic assessment/Assessed group work/Problem-Based Learning/E-portfolios

The York Pedagogy process provided a focus on activity and on the application of knowledge in Programme Learning Outcomes which tended to explicitly include a staged focus on skills (academic literacy skills such as critical thinking, reading, academic communication, as well as ‘transferable’, ‘employability’ skills such as digital literacy, group working and leadership skills).

Assessment of such PLOs often implies a need to broaden assessment types within Programme modules with the introduction of authentic assessments with a ‘real world’ focus. 

'Introductory resource: Authentic assessment’ (Arnold). 

Section 12 of the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback provides detailed guidance on assessed group projects.

The following page also provides guidance on organising groups and facilitating submission, marking and feedback for online group assignments.

Supporting project work

Supporting student project work 

Supporting Problem-Based Learning

Intervention: Supporting Problem Based Learning

E-portfolios

E-portfolio assessments / Intervention: E-portfolios 

 

References

Ajjawi, R., Tai, J., Dawson, P. and Boud, D. (2018) Conceptualising evaluative judgement for sustainable assessment in higher education in D. Boud, R. Ajjawi, P. Dawson and Tai, J. (Eds.), Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education. Abingdon: Routledge.

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

Carless, D. and Boud, D. (2018) The Development of Student Feedback Literacy: Enabling Uptake of Feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 43 (8): 1315–25.