ACU 2016 Revised Assessment Policy FAQs

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We call it the revised policy because it is a part of a continuum and builds on previous policy. The 2012 Assessment Policy was the first at ACU to emphasise standards-based assessment and also explicitly use criterion-referenced assessment. This was very important because not only was the use of criterion-referenced assessment mandated by TEQSA, it continues to be so in the Higher Education Standards Framework, which has also been revised and will be launched in January 2017.

Regardless of meeting the national standards, our past policies, this current one and any subsequent ones are all part of a process of continuous improvement. It's great to meet the national standards but it's also really important to meet the requirements for student learning - to make sure that we are constantly thinking about our students first; about the standard to which we are teaching them to support the best learning experience possible.

We can't use a PDF copy of the assessment policy because of version control. The only authoritative and up-to-date version of the assessment policy can be found in the Handbook online. It is still very portable with the proliferation of iPads, phones and Laptops. A PDF copy of any policy can date very easily.

Always be suspicious of a paper copy of the policy and also be very careful if you Google a question on a policy rather than using the university website. If a document is Googled please check for its currency. Check the date and check that it is currently being used.

The ACU policy on policy development gives some very clear guidelines on how to write policy. This came into place after the 2012 Assessment Policy was written.

The previous version used statements such as "usually" or "in most cases" which is no longer appropriate in policy development. The revised Assessment Policy from 2016 is principles-based and uses definitive statements - things that must be done. This resulted in a more succinct policy.

There are lots of definitions of hurdle task. In the current assessment policy, a hurdle task is one that is attached to learning outcome; it is fundamental to the passing of the unit; and to the course overall. It doesn't however have any marks attached to it. So it's a pass/fail task that is formative. It must be passed in order to pass the unit and progressed in the course but it does not contribute to the overall mark for the unit.

Consequently, hurdle tasks must be used sparingly. In any one course I would only expect to see one or two hurdle tasks and they must be used very carefully to make sure that students are not disadvantaged by using the hurdle task.

Using the adult learning theory that is generally attached a criterion referenced assessment, we have three different types of learning outcome for every unit and also typically across a course of study. The first and the most the most fundamental kind of learning outcome relates to knowledge acquisition; The second to sense-making of that knowledge; and the third to skill development.

Under this kind of adult learning theory, we don't assume that students can fully learn skills unless they have the requisite knowledge and understanding that underpins that skill development. To be able to assess different kinds of learning outcomes such as knowledge-based, sense-making and skills based, we need different kinds of assessment tasks.

For knowledge-based learning outcomes, which comes first in the assessment rating, we need to have assessment tasks that assess memory recall and the ability to know things. Things like a quiz is really effective for that.

Once we are clear that students have acquired a certain level of knowledge, we need students to demonstrate their sense-making or understanding of that knowledge. Things like short answer test; short essays; the kinds of application of knowledge task appropriate for that kind of assessment.

Finally, the skill development assessment needs to be more authentic. Students will actually demonstrate the skills they have developed. This type of assessment shows the student has in fact achieved all of the learning outcomes because embedded in their ability to demonstrate that skill, is the acquired knowledge and understanding to be able to do it.

To ensure that the assessment schedule comprises a variety of tasks, think in the terms of that narrative sequence of knowledge, understanding and skill development. If our students are able to achieve the learning outcomes by the end of their assessment regime, then they will demonstrate this by successfully completing tasks related to each of these levels.

The fundamental underlying principle in criterion-referenced assessment, is that the criteria we assess, are drawn from the learning outcomes. We can't assess anything that is not a learning outcome, with the graduate attributes that are embedded in them. Before we start teaching, the criteria for marking each task is set. Once we've chosen the assessment tasks we then need to check they actually do assess the learning outcomes.

The first assessment task needs to be an task that assesses knowledge. The criteria that we choose generally needs to be related to learning outcome 1 or 2.

It is not logical to assess later learning outcomes before we've assessed the ones that provide the platform for a students' learning. We would not for instance assess learning outcome 3 or 4 before we assess learning outcomes 1 and 2.

The standard of achievement needs to be set before we teach, so that we can decide in our marking what constitutes primarily the pass grade. To assess if our students have met a pass standard for a particular learning outcome, the criterion for that pass standard could be a copy and paste of the learning outcome itself. A fail is not having achieved the criterion.

To meet the other standards is very helpful to refer to the university grade descriptors, which show that a high distinction, for example, is a highly distinctive achievement of the learning outcome, that goes far beyond merely meeting the learning outcome requirements. The other standards are set at various levels across the range of the different standards.

Across the sector it is recognised that we need better standards in assessment and less amount of assessment. We need to be able to assess where our students learning achievement is, at regular points throughout the semester and we can do that with formative assessment.

We only need to assess the achievements of the learning outcomes after the point where our students have achieved various thresholds of learning in the unit. So we only need to summatively assess the learning outcomes to do with knowledge, at a point for instance, where they've achieved that knowledge.

We only need to assess the learning outcomes to do with sense-making after that's been achieved.

And we only need to assess the overall achievement of our students at the end of the assessment period or the end of the semester.

Students across the sector in Australia, have reported in various surveys that they are over assessed and inappropriately assessed. By limiting the number of assessments to three at ACU, it is our attempt to address these concerns.

When we say that there is a limit of 3 tasks, it is essential that they are not broken up into sections. There can't be part A, B, C or they can't be an ongoing assessment that has 12 parts to it. It is not appropriate, for example, to assess a forum in LEO each week. If it is important to the learning of the students that they need contribute to a forum every week, then that can be done formatively, by not attributing marks every week. When units over assess learning outcomes, students become stressed and experience the unit as being inappropriately assessed.

Clearly, assessment tasks are not all equal.

As I said, using adult learning theory, students need to show they have acquired knowledge and understanding before they can demonstrate the required skills. If they are not ready when their knowledge or their understanding is assessed, but at the end of semester are able to demonstrate that they have acquired the required skills, it can be understood that they have in fact acquired at that time the necessary knowledge and understanding to acquire that skill.

We need to be able to recognise at the end of the unit that although students may have got only marginal or less than passes in earlier assessments, if they have been able to pass a skills-based assessment that embeds the requisite knowledge and understanding, then they should pass the unit.

There are many reasons why students should not be required to attend lectures or tutorials. Lectures and tutorials have been shown through research, to be less than optimal in providing the kinds of resources that students need to support their learning. There are many ways that students learn and there are many ways for us as teachers to provide students with the opportunities that they need to learn.

We need to provide alternative means for students to access the information or the resources that are provided in that lecture.

As well as that, there are equity issues about access to lectures and tutorials.

If there is some completely non-negotiable reason why students need to be physically present for a learning activity, whether it is a lecture, a tutorial, a presentation or a practicum; then that can be mandated and a learning outcome needs to be attached to that physical attendance requirement.

If it is mandated, then it can't be partially mandated. If a student needs to be attending in person for a practicum, then it's not enough for those students to attend a percentage of the activities that are required by that practicum to achieve the learning outcome. If a student needs to attend, then they need to attend 100 percent of the time.

An example of the kind of thing that a student would need to attend in person, might be for a learning outcome in physiotherapy, with the manipulation of a human body. This simply cannot be done at home or in a virtual environment. A simulation would not necessarily allow for the outcome to be met. In that case, a student would need to have that mandated and would need to attend a hundred percent of the activities to do with the manipulation of the body.

The changes to supplementary assessment are founded on a fundamental change to the rationale for having supplementary assessment at ACU.

Under the old policy supplementary assessment was for the last 80 credit points of course and the rationale was, it was the students to transition into the workplace. That rationale has been reassessed and it has now been decided that supplementary assessment is for course completion and to support student learning and is now available from the beginning of a student's course.

The range of grades to be eligible for supplementary assessment has change from 40 to 49, to 45 to 49. The point with this however, is that supplementary assessment isn't necessarily the students who have just failed to meet a learning outcome but rather is more for students where it can't be decided whether the student has achieved all the learning outcome for a unit or not. These are the only students who should receive a supplementary assessment and this is the only time when a fail grade should be converted to an NF grade which then leads on to a supplementary assessment.

Supplementary assessment should be given sparingly. It has been found that in the first semester 2015, out of more than 900 supplementary assessments that were given to students, less than 15% were converted into passes. This means that supplementary assessment does not necessarily provide the kind of support to student learning that we might think.

The vast majority of students who fail a supplementary assessment, re-enrolled the following semester in the same unit. We need to be very careful to make sure that we are in fact supporting our students learning and that we use a professional judgement to make the decision as to whether or not the student has passed or failed.

I don't believe it is a great deal of benefit to students to put them through the supplementary assessment process when they have no chance of achieving a pass in the first place.

There may be cases where there are extenuating circumstances for a student that cannot be captured by guidelines or by policy. In that case what the university has done is given responsibility to the course coordinator to see how many supplementary assessments have been granted to any student in a semester and make their own enquiries as to what the circumstances may be if a student has been granted more than one.

It may just be that a student, who is an otherwise excellent student, has had some kind of accident or misadventure. In that case they should be given a supplementary assessment or a supplementary assessment in all the units that are affected.

On the other hand, it may be very clear but a student has not been attentive to their studies at all over the semester and should not be given a supplementary assessment at all. These decisions that can only be made using the professional judgement of the course coordinator in consultation with the lecturer in charge.