Marked disparities

May 21, 2004

Your article about the university marking scheme ("Structure is archaic, confused. See me!!", May 14) is symptomatic of a more serious problem - the unprofessional approach that characterises our marking system.

How many new lecturers have training in marking and assessment before they are let loose on students' work? How many experienced lecturers take account of the vast body of research on assessment and on students' experience of it?

Students are well aware of the inconsistencies between individual markers.

Small wonder that they rapidly become cynical and that the rate of plagiarism and cheating is so prevalent. How can we expect things to be otherwise when the assessment tasks we set are often inauthentic and when we pay scant attention to ensuring that the marking process is consistent and systematic?

Research shows that the reliability of marking is worryingly low, with wide variations between individuals marking the same piece of work - but it also shows that that using a marking scheme that sets out assessment criteria is more accurate than some sort of intuitive overall judgment.

Yet resistance to any questioning of our so-called expert judgement remains high, with comments such as "I know a 2.1 when I see it" widespread.

This simply isn't good enough. Marking is a professional duty and it's about time we regarded it as such.

Lin Norton
Professor of pedagogical research
Liverpool Hope University College

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