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Education

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Designing assessments for student learning

IT is argued that most educators are not trained to create valid assessments of student learning.

Educators choose assessment grading schemes for a variety of reasons.

Some may select a method that reflects the way they were assessed as students; others may just follow the lead of a mentor or instructions given by their institution.

Marking and grading are determined after all student scores for the assignment or tests are assigned. Often called norm-referenced grading, curving assigns grades to students based on their performance relative to the class as a whole.

Criterion-referenced grading assigns grades without this reference. The educator determines the threshold for grades before the assignment is submitted or the test is taken.

For example, a 90 and above could be defined as the base threshold for an A, regardless of how many students score above or below the threshold.

To curve or not to curve is a big question. Curving defines grades according to the distribution of student scores.

Choosing to curve grades or using a criterion-referenced grading system can affect the culture of competition and, or the students’ sense of determined fairness in a class.

Curving grades provides a way to standardise grades but yet, norm-referenced grading can ensure that the distribution of grades is comparable from time to time.

A course with a group of markers or raters, such as “educational studies” that uses a group of undergraduate students in the grading, may also employ a norm-referencing technique to standardise grades across sections.

In this case, standardisation across a group of markers should begin with training the graders.

Curving grades should not be a substitute for instructing the group of markers how to assign grades based on a pre-defined rubric

In addition to standardising grades, norm-referenced grading can enable members to design more challenging assignments that differentiate top performers who score significantly above the mean.

More challenging assignments can skew the grade distribution; norm-referenced grading can then minimise the impact on the majority of students whose scores will likely be lower.

A critique of curving grades is that some students, no matter how well they perform, will be assigned a lower grade than they feel they deserve. Students should have an equal chance to earn an A.

For this reason, some educators do not pre-determine the distribution of grades.

The benefit of using a criterion-referenced grading scheme is that it minimises the sense of competition among students because they are not competing for a limited number of As or Bs. Their absolute score, not relative performance, determines their grades.

Several ways to curve grades can be used include:

* The Bell Curve which normalises scores using a statistical technique to reshape the distribution into a bell curve. An educator then assigns a grade (e.g., C+) to the middle (median) score and determines grade thresholds based on the distance of scores from this reference point. A spreadsheet application, like Excel, can be used to normalise scores;

* Criterion-reference grading is a pre-determined scale, assessments are based on clearly defined learning objectives and grading rubrics, so students know the educators expectations for an A, B, C, etc;

* Clumping is when educators create a distribution of the scores and identify clusters of scores separated by breaks in the distribution, then use these gaps as a threshold for assigning grades.

* Quota Systems, often used in law schools, where the educators pre-determine the number of students who can earn each grade. The educators apply these quotas after rank ordering student scores.

Curving can be used as a tool to adjust grades on a poorly designed test, but consistent use of curving should not be a substitute for designing assessments that accurately assess what the educators want students to learn by the end of the course programme.

AZIZI AHMAD

Kuala Lumpur

Tags / Keywords: Education , azizi , grades

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