Chinese students, tutors and experts differ on assessment ethics

Study is first to survey students’ views on how they are judged in the classroom 

March 17, 2020
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Should lecturers bump up grades for troubled students, include surprise items on exams or let students grade each other’s assignments? And what do students themselves feel about these classroom assessment practices?  

Researchers at the University of South Carolina-Columbia and the China University of Mining and Technology have published the first survey of its kind on Chinese university students’ views on the ethics of classroom assessment. Writing in Studies in Higher Education, they say that they found differences between the perceptions of students and experts, as well as between genders and cultures.

Their findings could inform the development of assessment texts, policymaking and even international practices. 

More than 2,700 students across China were presented with 15 scenarios aligned with six categories related to classroom assessment ethics: fairness/bias, communication about grading, confidentiality, grading practices, multiple assessment opportunities and test administration. To determine which scenario was considered “ethical” or “unethical”, researchers consulted higher education professionals and adopted expert views from published works. 

Chinese students disagreed with experts on several scenarios. For example, they felt it was ethical for teachers to use surprise items on final exams, grade team projects without a rubric, count attendance as 20 per cent of the final grade, and let students grade each other’s papers and share the results. Chinese professors generally agreed with their students on these practices, whereas most higher education experts classified these actions as “unethical”. 

“The research findings suggest that Chinese college students seemed to be not aware of certain assessment practices,” the authors write. 

Female students, graduate students and students in teacher training programmes generally agreed with experts more than male students, undergraduates and those not studying to be teachers themselves. 

The research also found cultural differences between teaching practices in China and the US, where educators’ views were more in line with those of higher education experts. In the US, the sharing of grades would be considered a violation of confidentiality, whereas in the Chinese context, “stakeholders seemed to have a weak awareness of confidentiality in assessment”. Some scenarios, such as counting attendance as 20 per cent of the final grade, were “common practice” in China, but not so in the US.  

Although there are efforts to reform Chinese education, the current university system is still “test-centred, textbook-centred, and teacher-centred”, with “large-scale tests still valued as a fair measurement instrument for selecting students with high achievement”, the paper says. Perhaps because of this, previous studies on this issue focused only on the views of professors, teachers and education leaders.

However, Chinese students are becoming increasingly aware of ethical issues such as privacy, and their voices should be heard on how they are graded, the paper continues.

“Students’ increased concern of ethical issues in classroom assessment helps improve teachers’ assessment practices, which will inform Chinese professors’ professional development, guide them in making decisions about assessment practice, and support ethical and fair assessment,” the authors wrote. 

“Students are direct participants in classroom assessment; their needs should be taken into consideration.” 

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