THE ROLE OF SELF‐ASSESSMENT IN STUDENT GRADING

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Chicago Library]On: 19 November 2014, At: 07:13Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Assessment & Evaluation in Higher EducationPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/caeh20

    THE ROLE OF SELFASSESSMENT IN STUDENT GRADINGDavid Boud aa University of New South WalesPublished online: 28 Jul 2006.

    To cite this article: David Boud (1989) THE ROLE OF SELFASSESSMENT IN STUDENT GRADING, Assessment & Evaluation inHigher Education, 14:1, 20-30, DOI: 10.1080/0260293890140103

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  • Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education Volume 14 No. 1 Spring 1989Pp. 2 0 - 3 0

    THE ROLE OF SELF-ASSESSMENT IN STUDENT GRADING

    David Boud, University of New South Wales

    ABSTRACT

    While the educational benefits of student self-assessment are being increasingly recognised and self-assessment procedures introduced into post-secondary courses of many different kinds, the use ofself-assessment for grading purposes is a more controversial matter. Is there a role for student self-assessment in formal assessment proceedings? If there is to be a role, what should it be? This paperfocuses on these questions and examines why a marking role for self-assessment should be consideredand what evidence is available on the reliability of student-generated marks. The implications ofthese findings are considered and strategies are proposed to improve student markers reliability andto incorporate self-assessment indirectly into the formal assessment process.

    INTRODUCTION

    Self-assessment by students is becoming increasingly common in tertiary courses.Development of skills of self-assessment is a goal of higher education and self-assessmentdevices are also used to aid learning. The educational merits of using self-assessmentas part of the learning process and of encouraging students to engage in self-monitoringactivities have been established.(1) Much more contentious is the use of self-assessmentas part of formal assessment procedures, that is, as an activity which includes student-derived quantitative assessments as an element of officially recorded assessments.

    If self-generated student marks are to be used for this purpose, it is necessary interalia to demonstrate that students can produce marks which are acceptable to teachers this has usually meant that there is a very high probability that student marks arethe same as staff marks for a given assignment. It is also necessary to demonstrate that,if students can produce marks which are acceptably similar when they are not formallyrecorded, the context of formal assessment proceedings does not distort their ratingsso that students produce unrealistic assessments of their performance under theseconditions. If these points cannot be demonstrated, then student self-assessmentshould either be restricted to a purely learning role and as a skill to be developed, or itshould be used in a way which recognises the potential for bias and distortion, andcontrols for this through some form of moderating device or other strategy which doesnot feed raw scores from students directly into formal records.

    This paper commences with a discussion of the role of self-assessment in highereducation and consideration of why students should be involved in assessment forgrading purposes. It goes on to draw on two sources. Firstly, a critical analysis of the

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  • literature on the comparison of teacher marks with student self-ratings. Secondly,the experience of the author in using self-assessment in grading situations wherestudent marks are not accepted uncritically or used directly. General issues of reli-ability of marking are also noted in passing. The poor quality of quantitative researchon self-assessment is acknowledged and questions are raised about the kinds ofstrategies which teachers can adopt to permit students a role in the formal assessmentprocess. It ends with a brief discussion of the kinds of research which are needed toilluminate the issues in this area.

    THE ROLE OF SELF-ASSESSMENT

    There is a literature on student self-assessment stretching back for over fifty years,but it has only been in the past twenty years or so that the topic has begun to beseriously studied and self-assessment used systematically for both learning and gradingpurposes. It is now well-accepted that the ability to assess one's own work is animportant element in most forms of learning and that it is an ability which must becultivated if learners are to engage effectively in lifelong learning. In the sphere ofprofessional education the need to monitor one's own performance is one of thedefining characteristics of professional work.

    There have been two main strands of development in self-assessment which haveoccurred somewhat independently of each other. In the first strand have been studiesof the reliability of student self-grading taking teacher marks as the independentvariable. Comparisons have been made between the scores produced by students andteachers. The second strand has focussed little on these quantitative aspects and hasbeen principally concerned with developing ways in which students can become morecritical and perceptive about their regular learning, either with respect to particularsubject matter or more generally in their study skills. The goal has been one ofimproving learning. Parallel developments in continuing professional education haveplaced particular emphasis on self-appraisal for professional practice and the role ofpeer review.

    MARKS AND SELF-ASSESSMENT

    Why should we be concerned about a marking function for self-assessment? If self-assessment is a worthwhile activity in its own right, why consider applying it formarking purposes? The almost universal move towards a greater component of "con-tinuous" assessment in higher education courses has encouraged students to seek allwork to be marked and counted towards their final grading. Assignments set byteachers which are not marked appear to be treated less seriously than they once were:students are less willing to engage in work which does not have an extrinsic reward.In these circumstances, it has been reported that some students are unwilling to takepart in self-assessment exercises if they are not weighted for formal assessmentpurposes even when, in principle, they value a self-assessment exercise.(2,3)

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  • Also, if there is a high correlation between marks generated by students and thosegenerated by staff, why bother with involving students if their contribution makes nodifference to the final grades? There are at least two arguments for students to beinvolved in generating marks over and above any qualitative form of self-assessment.The first is what might be called the reality argument. This recognises that self-assessment never exists in a vacuum, it always occurs in a context. Sometimes thesetting is quite benign and the individual's standards are quite sufficient; on otheroccasions, the context constrains and may distort the individual's sense of what is anappropriate self-assessment. Self-marking provides practice in the interpretation of theoften arbitrary requirements which most public work needs to satisfy. Students needto be able to assess themselves in situations in which they have only partial knowledgeof the criteria to be used by others and when they may not fully accept the criteriawhich others will apply to them.

    The second argument is one based upon expediency. If students can take a greaterrole in assessment, there is potential for saving of staff time on the often tedious taskof marking. Staff time is valuable and that devoted to marking which does not resultin feedback to students, such as for final projects or examinations, is time which is notdevoted to facilitating learning. If students mark their own work, either with respectto specified standards (for example, model answers) or their self-established criteria,they not only release staff for more educationally worthwhile activities, but they areencouraged to reflect on their own work and the standards with which it is appropriatefor them to be concerned.

    However, if students are not able to mark themselves reliably with respect toteachers, then these arguments may not be enough for student marking to be usedformally. There is some evidence, discussed below, that student self marks are inmany cases not sufficiently consistent with teacher marks for them to be used straight-forwardly. This leads some teachers to drop all notions of self-assessment despite othereducational benefits, and at the other extreme, others believe the benefits of self-assessment are so great that they should trust their students to act appropriately evenwhen there is a risk that they might not award themselves the same marks as would begiven by a staff member.(4)

    THE QUANTITATIVE EVIDENCE

    Empirical research studies can throw light upon two aspects of this concern aboutinconsistency. Firstly, is there any systematic bias among students as a whole whichleads them to give themselves higher or lower marks than those that are awarded bystaff? Secondly, is there a tendency for individual students to over- or under-ratethemselves? If there is, is it a conscious act or not? Evidence from the literature on thefirst is discussed below, but the second question is difficult to disentangle from thegeneral question of marker reliability. There already exists well-documented variationsbetween staff markers and with the same marker over time.(5) One might expect atleast a similar variation among students, perhaps more so as they are relatively in-experienced in these matters.

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  • WHAT DO THE STUDIES SHOW?

    The evidence is discussed in detail in Boud.(6) It can be summarised as follows:

    (a) The technical quality of the empirical studies which have been reported is nothigh and conclusions drawn from them need to be treated cautiously. Results varyfrom situation to situation as one might expect there is no reason to believe thatthere is some universal law acting here. However, some general conclusions can bedrawn.

    (b) The best evidence which can be deduced from the literature suggests that, so longas studies which involve students grading themselves on effort rather than achievementare excluded from consideration, most students generate marks which are reasonablyconsistent with marks given by staff. However, weaker students do have a tendency toover-rate themselves, sometimes quite considerably, and stronger students have theopposite tendency, although of a lesser magnitude. The influence of formal assessmentappears to increase somewhat the tendency for students to over-rate themselves.

    IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS

    If there are problems with consistency when using student-generated marks, does thissuggest that the use of student self-assessment for marking purposes should beabandoned? Not necessarily. Studies which have identified the unreliability of teachermarks have not led to calls for teacher grading to be abandoned, rather they lead toconsiderations of how the marking process can be made more reliable. The problemmay not be the inadequacy of students as markers per se, but the difficulty of themgiving a sufficiently unbiassed opionion about their own work. For example, Orpen(7)

    in studies of two courses in which papers were marked by five students and fivelecturers found that marks given by student's peers correlated highly with those givenby the lecturers.

    Two approaches to the improvement of performance of student markers suggestthemselves: those associated with improving marker relaibility generally and thosewhich involve ways of not using student-generated marks directly in formal assess-ments.

    1. Improving marker reliability

    Most of the strategies for improving marker reliability can be applied to studentmarkers as well as staff markers. So, for example, improvements may be made by:

    (a) establishing explicit criteria for sastisfactory and unsatisfactory performance.

    (b) using scales in which the categories are unambiguously defined;

    (c) not using scales which are more sensitive than the fineness of discriminationallows;

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  • (d) training markers through practising the application of accepted criteria to typicalexamples of work to be marked and the resolution of differences through dis-cussion between markers to reach consensus on the interpretation of the criteria.

    Further strategies may be found, for example, in White.(8)

    These principles are rarely applied by staff to their own marking tasks so it may beunduly optimistic to expect to see them used extensively with student markers. Thereare additional educational reasons why they should be used with students, however.For example, Gibbs(9) and Ballard and Clanchy(10) would argue that it is veryimportant for students to be involved in considering and using criteria which will beapplied to their work if they are to learn effect...

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