Old debate needs new consideration 3

July 31, 2008

We were pleased to see such a complementary series of articles ("MPs have bone to pick with QAA over standards"; "Honesty is not the best policy"; "Beyond classification"; "No points for learning", 24 July) that went some way to addressing the complex issue of assessment standards. And we agree that more "oversight" is not the solution.

Assessment standards are socially constructed within disciplinary communities and it needs to be recognised that there are limits to the extent to which standards can be articulated explicitly. Assessment must therefore, in part, rely on the professional judgment of staff, which requires a deep understanding of those standards.

But this takes time. Consistent and high-level assessment standards are most under threat from pressure on staff to increase their productivity and the diminishing emphasis in universities to supporting community engagement. Such disciplinary communities operate nationally and internationally and provide the challenge to the autonomy of universities that is causing such concern to the select committee. Priority should be given to staff dialogue around standards and students need to be party to this.

Increased or more rigid external regulation is likely to further handicap the disciplinary communities at the forefront of safeguarding standards. We would, however, urge all involved to engage with the tenets of the assessment manifesto sponsored by the Assessment Standards Knowledge Exchange and launched earlier this year. (http://www.business.brookes.ac.uk/learningandteaching/aske/news.asp).

Margaret Price, Chris Rust, Berry O'Donovan, Jude Carroll and Karen Handley, ASKe directorate, ASKe Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Oxford Brookes University.

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