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Evaluation of the implementation of criterion-referenced assessment in a School of Zoology
Edwards, A (2010) Evaluation of the implementation of criterion-referenced assessment in a School of Zoology. In: ATN Assessment: Sustainability, diversity and Innovation, 18-19 November 2010, UTS Sydney. (Unpublished)
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Evaluation of the implementation of criterion-referenced assessment in a School of Zoology Ashley Edwards School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Ashley.Edwards@utas.edu.au Keywords - Criterion referenced assessment, Student perceptions, Zoology Introduction Student cohorts are becoming increasingly diverse with respect to both their composition and the background experiences individuals bring to their studies. This diversity sees teachers needing to accommodate, and devise strategies to maximise the learning outcomes of students with a broad range of abilities and prior experiences. One way in which teachers can improve learning experiences for students and clarify expectations is through the provision of constructive feedback and increased transparency of the assessment process. It has been well established that methods used to assess students have a strong impact on their learning (Ramsden, 1992). Students are more engaged with their learning and perform better if they know what is or will be expected of them (Huba and Freed, 2000). A strategy which addresses these issues is the use of Criterion-Referenced Assessment (CRA) (Sadler, 2009). Marking rubrics commonly associated with CRA seek to make assessment criteria explicit to students (Walvoord, 2004 p.19) Background In 2007, the University of Tasmania (UTAS) created an Assessment Working Group (AWG) to review assessment practices across the university. The outcome of this project was a recommendation to adopt three key principles of assessment (underpinned by an institution-wide change to standards-based CRA (UTAS Working Group, 2007). The principles adopted by UTAS focus on the purpose of assessment, using assessment as an integral part of the teaching and learning cycle, and ensuring that the assessment process is transparent and fair (UTAS Assessment Policy TLP 2.1, 2009). The use of standards-based CRA to achieve these goals was mandated by the UTAS Senate in 2009, to be implemented across all undergraduate teaching units by Semester 1, 2011, with four perceived outcomes for students: 1) Clearer understanding of what is expected of students 2) Increased control over students’ own learning 3) Increased satisfaction by students about assessment practices 4) Increased consistency within and across faculties (CALT, 2010). For staff, expected benefits include opportunities to: 1) Improve assessment practices and evaluate units 2) Share good teaching practice with colleagues 3) Streamline the feedback process (CALT, 2010). The project The implementation of the use of CRA at the University of Tasmania provides these opportunities to both teaching staff and students in the School of Zoology. In 2010, Zoology staff undertook to develop and use assessment rubrics for at least the major (non-exam) assessment item in each unit and this is currently being evaluated, particularly with regard to the perceived benefits both for and by students. In 2010, these assessment tasks commonly included formats such as scientific reports, essays, discussion papers and critiques on practical and field research and theoretical topics. Student perceptions of the effect of CRA rubrics on clarification of assessment and satisfaction with the assessment process are being measured via Student Evaluation of Teaching and Learning (SETL) responses (Likert scale and open questions) comparing 2009 results, prior to the overt use of CRA rubrics, with 2010 responses after the initial implementation. Staff are being surveyed at the conclusion of each unit (Semester 1 and 2, 2010) about their use of CRA rubrics as both assessment and feedback tools to evaluate the effectiveness of the transition, and whether modifications for 2011 might ameliorate any concerns. Morgan et al (2004, p.26) suggest that “individuals and groups of tertiary teachers, when faced with challenges to long-held values and assumptions, are not usually quick to act”, so this study will evaluate compliance with the CRA mandate, and staff feelings about time taken to generate new assessment rubrics. The results Early results suggest that 3rd yr students perceive the use of CRA in the School of Zoology more positively than 1st yr students, which may be a consequence of students’ prior experience (or lack thereof) with the process of assessment at university. I suggest that management of student expectations during this implementation phase will greatly influence student perceptions of the value of CRA. Further data collection in this ongoing study will explore perceptions, particularly from staff and students about the use of CRA in the School. The staff emphasis will be not only on views about the impact of CRA rubrics on their provision of feedback, but also the “top-down” nature of the implementation and the implications for workload. The student perspective will be a broader one, comparing Zoology student evaluations of assessment and feedback with similar data for the rest of the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology (Walvoord 2004 p.61) as a way to evaluate the success of the implementation of CRA in the School. References Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CALT) (2010). http://www.teaching-learning.utas.edu.au/assessment/whats-in-it-for-students Huba M. E. and Freed J. E. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses: Shifting the focus from teaching to learning. Allyn and Bacon, USA. Morgan C., Dunn L., Parry S. and O’Reilly M. (2004). The Student Assessment Handbook –New Directions in Traditional and Online Assessment. RoutledgeFalmer, London. Ramsden P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. Routledge, London and New York. Sadler R. D. (2009). Indeterminancy in the use of preset criteria for assessment and grading. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. 34 159-179. UTAS assessment policy TLP 2.1 (2009). http://www.utas.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/30995/TLP-2.1-Assessment-Policy.pdf UTAS Working group (2007). Guidelines for good assessment practice. University of Tasmania, Launceston. Walvoord B.E. (2004). Assessment clear and simple – A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., USA.
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