Letter: What's the score? (2)

June 29, 2001

The scrapping of the inept teaching quality assessment regime, as promised, will bring to an end an annual and instructive comedy of manners.

In my own subject, archaeology, the maximum score that can be given is 24, from a maximum mark of four in six aspects of teaching. Here at Cambridge we got 23. The other scores on the Quality Assurance Agency website are Bradford 22, Durham 23, Newcastle 21, Nottingham 21. Manchester got a perfect 24; I have not heard of a score below 21. And 21 out of 24 is 87.5 per cent.

This time each year, academics judge students, largely at this university through conventional three-hour examinations. To get a first in archaeology here, students must average 70 per cent across all the papers. To get a first with distinction, students have to get 70 per cent in each paper. I have never heard of a student reaching an average score in the 90, 80 or even the top 70 per cent ranges.

Academics judge academics: no one does worse than 87 per cent. Academics judge students: no one does much better than about 70 per cent. Yes, I know they are different kinds of judgements using different kinds of criteria for different purposes. Still, the QAA calls the marks "grades", just as we do our views of the students. The way the numbers fall for them and for us tells you something about how we work and about what we let the powers-that-be instruct us to do.

Oh, and the only assessments posted on the QAA website as of today are five done in October and November last year. Where are the ones done since? We think it reasonable that our students be penalised if they do not complete their project work on time....

Christopher Chippindale
Faculty of archaeology and anthropology
University of Cambridge

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