Tertiary-education assessment falls short of the mark?

Posted By TEU on Mar 26, 2009 |


Tertiary Update Volume 12 Number 8

Consumer Magazine is advising its readers to be wary of the consistency of marking and assessment standards in tertiary-education institutions. The magazine suggests in this month’s edition that there can be significant variations in marks for students’ work and it calls for increased quality assurance. University of Auckland professor of education John Hattie is quoted as arguing that, while “we implicitly trust our academics to know what they value in their subjects, to set examinations and assignments, to mark reliably and validly”, evidence suggests that trust may not always be warranted.

Dr Alison Viskovic of Whitireia Community Polytechnic suggests in the same article that academic staff often learn the trade of assessment by “trial and error”, with few opportunities to observe others teaching or of being observed by a peer and given feedback. And Professor Luanna Meyer of Victoria University says that academic staff are usually appointed on their subject knowledge and qualifications rather than their teaching expertise, but tuition in how to do the job does not necessarily follow once they start work.

Consumer calls for a code of practice ensuring academic quality similar to that in the Britain, where institutions publish clear assessment criteria and ensure marking is carried out fairly and consistently. It also recommends publically assessing our institutions against a range of quality indicators such as occurs in Germany.

However, TEU president elect Dr Tom Ryan has expressed caution about adding further layers of “quality assurance” onto tertiary-education teaching staff.

“TEU is mindful of the need to ensure the highest standards of teaching and learning in our institutions. We welcomed the recent investment by government of $20 million in the establishment of the Ako Aotearoa National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence,” Dr Ryan said. “Many of our polytechnics and ITPs already require their teaching staff to have formal qualifications in adult learning and teaching. And our universities have long required student evaluations of their courses, and assessment of graduate coursework and postgraduate theses by academics based in other New Zealand and overseas universities.”

“Our recent experience of the PBRF suggests that centrally imposed quality-assurance systems are massively expensive, impact negatively on workplace relations and morale, and invite manipulation and abuse by management. While our members recognise and value the importance of high quality teaching in all tertiary institutions, they want to be part of and consulted about any changes that might be proposed,” argued Dr Ryan.

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. University unions ballot for nationwide employment agreement
  2. Voluntary repayment bonus to favour wealthy graduates
  3. Controversy over cash-for-holidays plan
  4. 3000 places in ITPs for 9-day-fortnight workers
  5. Three to contest te tumu arataki position
  6. French university strikes have government recalling 1968
  7. TAFEs to help Australia meet degree target
  8. London VC quits after losing £56m
  9. Demand for Muslim prayer room rejected
  10. Staff could face sack over spoof pamphlets

TEU Tertiary Update is published weekly on Thursdays and distributed freely to members of the Tertiary Education Union and others. Back issues are available on the TEU website. Direct inquiries should be made to Stephen Day, email: http://scr.im/stephenday

Thanks to Adam Mulligan @ Flickr for the photo

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