It's time to drop the dead parrot 1

July 12, 2002

Frank Furedi's hearty defence of "diverse" assessment strategies is a timely wake-up call (Why I..., THES , July 5) and reminiscent of the protestations of the pet "boutique" proprietor in the famous Monty Python "dead parrot" sketch, in which a deliberate fraud is offered as an essential design element.

Rather than undermine the researchers' argument about how assessment is a "lottery", Furedi's inability to understand basic educational and assessment principles exemplifies the problem.

His Professor Hardnut, Dr Easymarker and the others who add or dock marks without reference to an agreed assessment scheme simply do not know what their job is or how to do it. There are diverse ways of teaching, of learning and of demonstrating learning, and these must be considered and decided at the design stage of a course. In course delivery and assessment, however, it is essential to agree content and explicit assessment criteria.

An external examiner's role is to control and ameliorate the unintended but inevitable variations in balance and weighting of different examiners. If lecturers apply diverse assessment criteria, there is no logical basis for accepting one mark over another. If we added an external similarly bent on applying individual, subjective, criteria, then we add an idle third mark. How could we choose the score? Add them together and divide by three? Accept the external's mark as a courtesy? High-level differences in lecturer perceptions or judgements are matters for learned debate in appropriate journals. But if we ask students to jump, we need to say how high and we need to share whatever ruler is to be applied in determining the level of performance. This demand is not bureaucratic interference or managerial infringement of scholarly freedom, but natural justice.

Andrew Morgan

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