Assessment in higher education is neither value-neutral nor culture-free: within its procedures, structures and systems it codifies cultural, disciplinary and individual norms, values and knowledge hierarchies. (Dr Pauline Hanesworth, Advance HE, 2019)
Ensuring our course and unit assessments meet the needs of all learners can feel like a daunting prospect. However, by following some sound design principles, we can reduce potential barriers to assessment. The following inclusive assessment guidance introduces a range of practical approaches which promote:
- choice and flexibility.
- clarity around expectations and processes.
- opportunities for students to practise and learn from their assessments.
- When planning assessments at course level, consider whether the course provides a range of assessment types as identified in the University’s Assessment Taxonomy. Whilst variety will remove the frequency of barriers associated with a specific assessment type, try to avoid using so many different and unfamiliar types of assessment that students then become overwhelmed .
- When designing for a specific assessment, consider whether it is possible to build in flexibility and choice in terms of how a student can demonstrate their learning to meet the learning outcome. For example, rather than specifying that a student must be assessed by a presentation, consider whether a poster or blog could also enable the student to meet the required learning outcome.
- It is also possible to build greater choice into an assessment at design stage by ensuring questions enable students to draw on real world examples from their own experience or by using case studies which a diverse cohort can relate to (Oxford Brookes University).
- Although there are many benefits to online assessments, not all students will have equitable access to a physical or digital environment which is conducive to assessment. Try to ensure students are able to access suitable alternative provision where required.
- Students may experience hurdles linked to assessment processes and procedures, rather than the actual assessment itself. Where possible introduce new and unfamiliar exam processes (e.g. software or procedures for submitting work) to minimise additional hurdles which may undermine confidence and detract from the assessment activity itself.
- Explicitly communicating exam arrangements and processes to students in a timely manner will help students better prepare for the assessment. This can be particularly important for students who have a Disability Access Plan (DAP) and who may be entitled to special exam arrangements or the use of assistive software.
- Assignment briefs can grow organically over time and, as a result, key messages can become diluted or hidden. Spending time considering how a brief is put together and checking that the instructions are clear and explicit can help to ensure that students do not misinterpret the criteria or task. Asking a colleague or peer who works in a different discipline to look at how a brief is organised and communicated can also enable us to view the documentation through fresh eyes.
- Encourage students to make the most of opportunities for practising a particular form of assessment e.g. a formative assessment task for presenting will enable students to practise and receive feedback before completing the summative presentation.
- Remind students that a summative assessment in one unit can provide a valuable formative assessment opportunity for other unit assessments.
- When building in formative assessment opportunities it can be tempting to introduce a like-for-like practice run. Sometimes, a more focused formative task can better prepare students for tackling the summative assessment (and reduce staff workload!). For instance, rather than asking students to produce a draft report or assignment, or to read several articles, select a focused version of the task such as producing a couple of paragraphs, or reading and critiquing part of an article.