Markers lose touch

May 2, 1997

STANDARDS in higher education are under threat because academics have little time to debate marking and assessment, a report has warned, writes Tony Tysome.

Higher education has grown and diversified so much that understanding between academics over assessment and standards could be lost unless they get more chance to compare notes.

A study of assessment in four subject areas - law, psychology, life sciences and modern languages - published this week by the Higher Education Quality Council, says this raises questions about "the transparency of the assessment process, and the extent to which required attributes are understood in the same way by students and staff in the same institution, let alone sector-wide".

While a common vocabulary was used across disciplines and institutions to describe aspects of assessment, staff and students often attached different meanings to words and phrases used.

The report concludes: "Current trends in university organisation and assessment militate against the formation of common understandings and standards even within an institution and programme. Without mitigating action, they are likely to threaten marker reliability in the not-too-distant future."

Assessors often rely heavily on their own internalised models of assessment without much cross-reference to documents such as archive scripts, the study found. The report says staff need to compare students' work more and be clearer about how it relates to the aims of a course.

Assessment in higher education and the role of graduateness, available from the Distribution Department, UCAS, Fulton House, Cheltenham.

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