Learner-led assessment: The key to higher attainment?

Matt Wingfield

Matt Wingfield is the chief business development officer of edtech firm Digital Assess, which specialises in assessment technology. He is also the current chairman of the eAssessment Association and sits on the UK’s e-Assessment Advisory Group, as well as being a former primary school teacher. Matt recently worked alongside several universities worldwide to implement CompareAssess, an online portal that uses Adaptive Comparative Judgement to enable students to anonymously assess the work of their peers on screen.

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Image credit: Flickr // Sun Valley Group of Schools. Image credit: Flickr // Sun Valley Group of Schools.

We all know that the purpose of formative assessment is to make students aware of the standard of work they are producing, and more importantly, to help them understand how they can improve. Too often, however, assessment becomes just another formality, so entrenched in the system that we forget to stop and think about both its effectiveness and the learner experience. Sometimes, feedback simply does not translate into improvements, and it can be frustrating for everyone involved. How do we resolve this? The answer lies in allowing the student to become an active participant in the process, through anonymously comparing and critiquing an entire cohort of work online.

If we compare the traditional assessment process with other contexts that involve making an absolute judgement, we can see that it is not grounded in logic. The Law of Comparative Judgement proves that people “Comparing their work against their peers’ allows students to see what makes a good piece.”can draw a more accurate conclusion if they compare two things side-by-side, rather than each in turn. For example, an optician will often ask us to compare two different lenses simultaneously to determine which is better. It would be much harder to say with absolute confidence which is better if we only looked through one at a time.

Teachers should approach the assessment process with the same logic. Usually, students only receive isolated feedback on their own work. If they could compare their work against that of their peers, they would be able to see more clearly what makes a good piece. Teachers should look to implement a formative assessment tool that facilitates this, through incorporating the assessment approach known as Adaptive Comparative Judgement (ACJ). Developed by UK assessment experts and academics from the University of Cambridge and Goldsmiths, University of London, ACJ is based on the Law of Comparative Judgement.

Utilising the ACJ approach can significantly improve the learner’s understanding of their own work, and subsequently it has been proven to increase attainment by up to 14%. Students can anonymously peer review two pieces of work, and identify which best meets the criteria. After repeating this process multiple times, they are presented with a clear ranked scale, ranging from the lower end to the higher. They can see where they fit into this scale, and what the differences are between their work and that of the higher achievers. In addition, they understand more fully how other people view their work, and not only do they benefit from receiving multiple perspectives, but the feedback will also be conveyed to them in a language they can grasp.

Teachers know that students often struggle to understand how their work aligns with a conceptual and complex mark scheme, meaning they don’t truly engage with feedback or proactively respond to it. Embracing a method in “Students becoming the assessor can help both teachers and learners.”which the student becomes the assessor can help both teachers and learners overcome that hurdle. If they are thinking about which elements of someone else’s work are good, they will think about how they can apply this to their future assignments. It gives a clearer indication of what specifically they can do to improve. In particular, it can benefit middle-ability learners, a group that is typically more difficult to influence.

Student engagement with feedback is further encouraged through a digitised peer review system because it leads to greater efficiency and a quicker means of assessment. One teacher marking work from an entire class is time consuming, and inevitably it may take a while for students to receive their feedback. A collaborative approach, in which students are presented with a ranked scale almost instantly online, means they are thinking about the quality of their own work whilst the assignment is still fresh in their mind – leaving no room to become uninterested.

The way in which we approach formative assessment needs reforming to make it more meaningful and helpful for students. An online peer review system that invites comparison, improves the quality of the feedback, and presents it in a format that students can easily understand seems to be the logical way forward. By making the route to improvement more explicit, teachers might find that they are not repeatedly identifying the same shortcomings in student work. Ultimately, this method is more conducive to increased attainment and helps students to build a clearer sense of ‘what good looks like’ within a given context.

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