Learning and Teaching in Action: Assessment

Student in language lab


The University Assessment Framework

Rachel Forsyth

In June last year Academic Board approved the adoption of a University Assessment Framework. Unless you are currently engaged with programme review or approval, you may not yet have encountered this document, which is intended to provide staff with a clear set of principles on assessment and feedback. The principles can be used as part of PARM and AME procedures and are generic enough to be applied consistently across the institution without requiring conformity to a prescriptive notion of assignments.

You might think that there were already lots of regulations in place about assessment but in fact the institution has never been dogmatic about assessment design. The similarities in assessment styles from one unit to another and one programme or subject area to another are the result of custom and practice; academic staff have a lot of freedom to design assignment tasks which are appropriate to their subjects. Sometimes this freedom can be a bit too much: unit leaders may find it difficult to implement a new approach because of the lack of guidance or regulation: where do you start with deciding whether something is acceptable, up to standards, long enough, and so on? It can be easier to go with tried and trusted approaches instead. The University Assessment Framework gives you something to check a new task against:

  • Is this task valid, reliable, achievable and gradable?
  • How will it be marked?
  • What kind of feedback will students receive, and when?

The framework was developed by the Assessment Community of Practice, which brings together members of staff with a particular interest in assessment. The CoP has also developed guidance on a number of related issues such as anonymous marking of coursework, deciding on the size of assignment tasks and determining penalties for overlong submissions. Membership of the CoP is open to any member of the University and people contribute as and when they can to the discussions. The Assessment CoP is also a good forum for discussion and peer review of innovative assessment practice.

The framework is a key part of the Challenging Assessment initiative, which is running until September 2009, and during which we want to have as much dialogue as possible about good assessment practice and what it means. The Centre for Learning and Teaching can provide specific help to support the development of policies at programme or departmental/school level which cover all aspects of assessment and which encourage assessment review within the context of the individual subject and the ways in which the subject team is engaged with the concept of providing education for world-class professionals.

To support the principles of the framework, the Centre for Learning and Teaching has launched an extensive online resource on assessment, which covers guidance on assessment design, selection of assessment tasks to suit particular types of learning outcomes, assessment procedures and a large section on giving feedback on assessed work. You can also contact CeLT directly if you have any questions about assessment and feedback design.


University Assessment Framework

Approved by Academic Board May 2008

Download the Framework in .pdf format


Assessment at Manchester Metropolitan University is an integrated and integral part of learning and teaching. It is the principal instrument with which we recognise and reward student progress, provide motivation for further achievement, identify areas for development in both teaching and student learning, monitor levels of achievement and maintain academic standards and help to prepare students for professional life.

The University recognises the importance of both formative and summative assessment in the student experience and expects it to be integrated into all curriculum planning and to be directly aligned with intended learning outcomes. Assessment practice is informed by reflection and research across the university as well as by reference to external bodies and projects.

The assessment framework will guide programme teams in the design and implementation of both formative and summative assessment and feedback strategies.

Principles of Assessment

Formative and summative assessment should be:

  • Valid: the specified assessment should test specific learning outcomes
  • Reliable: the specified assessment should be able to measure student achievement against learning outcomes accurately and consistently
  • Achievable: assessments and assessment regimes should be designed so that the threshold requirements are achievable by any student admitted on to the programme of study
  • Gradable: it should usually be possible to grade student performance for a specified assessment using a full range of marks.

Implementation of Assessment Principles

We expect each assessment set for students at MMU to achieve the following:

1. Assessment should be integrated into all curriculum planning and be directly aligned with intended learning outcomes.

Assessment should test whether or not the specified learning outcomes have been achieved. Marking criteria should be used to indicate the level to which the outcomes have been achieved across the full range of available marks.

2. Assessment should provide evidence of achievement to agreed standards

For any individual assignment, the unit learning outcomes will indicate what is to be assessed and the marking criteria will indicate the minimum standards for achievement. Standards are agreed by reference to peers and to Professional, Regulatory and Statutory bodies (PSRBs). All programmes should adopt the use of appropriate grade descriptors at each level, which indicate clearly how the full range of marks can be achieved. If necessary, the grade descriptors will need to be interpreted for each assignment. The use of common marking frameworks across a level will make it easier for students to judge their progress between different units and will facilitate programme team discussions about assignments.

3. Assessment should recognise student progress

In order for this to be the case, there needs to be a sense of where a particular assignment fits into both a unit and a programme, in terms of both content and level. It is rarely possible for an individual marker to identify progress for an individual student in an individual assignment. However, if assignments are referenced to interim award and programme learning outcomes, then personal tutors or students themselves can make this connection.

4. Assessment should promote learning, facilitate the identification of areas for development and provide motivation for further achievement

Students should have the opportunity to experience formative assessment on all learning outcomes, as far as possible. Feedback on both formative and summative coursework assignments should be provided in a timely way1. It should show clearly what the student needs to do to improve their work for future assignments. A checklist approach can be used to indicate where there could be improvement in programme level outcomes and to provide signposting for generic skills development. This approach can also help the programme team to monitor progress towards interim award and programme learning outcomes and can indicate areas for teaching development. Thinking about each assignment as a stage in lifelong learning can be a helpful way for both student and assessor to put each assignment in perspective. For the tutor, this means setting assignments which are clearly situated in interim award and programme learning outcomes, and focusing on feedback which moves the student forward.

1 The University student agreement requires that "statements of the time frame for feedback on submitted work are clearly stated in the Programme Handbook".

about the author

photo of Rachel Forsyth

Rachel Forsyth
Centre for Learning and Teaching

e-mail: r.m.forsyth@mmu.ac.uk

Download this article as a .pdf file

Autumn 2008
ISSN 1477-1241