Blog 6: How inclusive is your assessment strategy?
By Leda Mirbahai (Warwick Medical School)
Assessments are a fundamental part of student experience - with students learning by doing, i.e. by engaging with assessment tasks and then, after submission through the feedback they receive on their performance and progress Internal and External Examiner often ensure that assessment strategies are reliable, effective, and accurate, however, whether they are inclusive is often overlooked.
Considering the diversity of our student population, it is clear that ‘one size fits all’ approach to assessment design and delivery is not an inclusive assessment strategy which links with diversification of our assessment approaches (a point that we will come back to shortly). The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), UK’s quality code for higher education, lists 10 guiding principles on expectations and practices for assessment which are:
- Assessment methods and criteria are aligned to learning outcomes and teaching activities.
- Assessment is reliable, consistent, fair and valid.
- Assessment design is approached holistically.
- Assessment is inclusive and equitable.
- Assessment is explicit and transparent.
- Assessment and feedback are purposeful and supports the learning process.
- Assessment is timely.
- Assessment is efficient and manageable.
- Students are supported and prepared for assessment.
- Assessment encourages academic integrity.
As mentioned, a criteria of good assessment ‘strategy’ is to be inclusive and equitable. If one really reflects on the 10 principles, they are all interlinked. For example, it is very difficult to demonstrate an assessment strategy that is inclusive where assessment loads are not manageable for our students or students don’t receive equitable level of support. With Toolkits such as ‘Embedding inclusive assessment reflective toolkit’, a project funded by QAA, becoming available we can reflect on the assessment strategy of our courses and programmes by considering how well we align to attributes of an inclusive assessment. The toolkit starts to encourage a triangulation critic of our assessment approaches by involving major stakeholders from students, academics and leaders in the process and asking some key reflective questions. Reflecting on the 9 attributes of inclusive assessment as mentioned by this toolkit, most questions are basically reflecting on the principles of good assessment, which in my view indicates that if your assessment aligns to the principles, it should promote inclusivity.
As an academic staff leading the assessment strategy for a new UG course at WMS, I have been involved in the planning and delivery of a course level assessment strategy. As the course is new, it has removed some of the challenges of trying to alter and adjust existing assessments for individual modules. This raises an important concept; assessment strategies should be seen at course/programme level. Going back to principles of good assessments, we need to demonstrate how our assessments map to course level, year level and module level learning outcomes as well as ensuring students are supported and prepared for assessments. This highlights the gradual building of our learner’s skills and knowledge in a spiral curriculum and enabling them to receive continuous feedback on their progress in a meaningful way. Learners need to be able to visualise and reflect on their progress across the programme and to achieve this, our assessments in one module (skills, attribute and knowledge) need to meaningfully build on the previous modules; hence programme level approach being more desirable.
Using diverse assessments is a great way of acknowledging that ‘one size fits all’ approach to assessment design and delivery is not an inclusive assessment strategy. However, this also doesn’t mean that we should sprinkle our assessment programmes with as many different modes of assessments possible. Introducing too many different modes of assessments that are not revisited or are not utilising or building on skills and knowledge of a learner would just add to the level of stress encountered by our learner as it means our students need to learn a new and unfamiliar assessment approach just to use it once! Therefore, diversification should be achieved in a meaningful way rather than just for the sack of introducing new assessment modes.
Finally, in my view one of the most important aspects of a good assessment strategy is continuous reflection and improvement. There is no fixed perfect assessment strategy as our learners and their requirements are constantly changing. An assessment strategy that is developed and never revised will soon become unfit for the purpose it was developed. I know this as I am already making a list of changes that we need to embed into our assessment strategy and the course is only 3 years old! So I leave you with one question. How inclusive is your assessment strategy?
The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education (2018) UK Quality Code for Higher Education advice and guidance: Assessments.
Embedding inclusive assessment-Reflective toolkit (2022), a QAA funded project. Developing a Set of Inclusive Assessment Design Attributes for use Across the Higher Education Sector (qaa.ac.uk)
This is the 6th blog in our diverse assessment series. Previous blogs can be found here:
Blog 1: Launch of the learning circle (Isabel Fischer & Leda Mirbahai): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/interested_in_diverse/
Blog 2: Creative projects and the ‘state of play’ in diverse assessments (Lewis Beer): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/creative_projects_and/
Blog 3: Student experience of assessments (Molly Fowler): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/a_student_perspective/
Blog 4: Assessment Strategy – one year after starting the learning circle (Isabel Fischer & Leda Mirbahai): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/one_year_on/
Blog 5: Learnings and suggestions based on implementing diverse assessments in the foundation year at Warwick (Lucy Ryland): https://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/wjett/entry/learnings_suggestions_based/
Join the Diverse Assessment Learning Circle: If you would like to join the learning circle please contact the co-leads: Leda Mirbahai, Warwick Medical School (WMS) (Leda.Mirbahai@warwick.ac.uk) and Isabel Fischer, Warwick Business School (WBS) (Isabel.Fischer@wbs.ac.uk). This LC is open to non-WIHEA members.
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