THE ROLE OF SELF‐ASSESSMENT IN STUDENT GRADING

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    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 devote