Assessment Principles: Some possible candidates
Below are three sets of principles that might be used to guide the design of assessment in higher or further education. The first set, of which there are 11, has informed the work of the Reengineering Assessment Practices (REAP) project (www.reap.ac.uk). The second set are a more comprehensive list developed at the University of Strathclyde by the Assessment Working Group who have been tasked with reformulating the policy and practice of assessment across the institution. The final set of 7, were proposed in the US by Chickering and Gamson (1991) based on their review of good undergraduate education. These principles are a starting point in trying to understand the relationship between the theory and practice of assessment.
The REAP project: 11 Principles of good assessment design
Assessment design should:
- Engage students actively in identifying or formulating criteria
- Facilitate opportunities for self-assessment and reflection
- Deliver feedback that helps students self-correct
- Provide opportunities for feedback dialogue (peer and tutor-student)
- Encourage positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem
- Provide opportunities to apply what is learned in new tasks
- Yield information that teachers can use to help shape teaching
- Capture sufficient study time and effort in and out of class
- Distribute students’ effort evenly across topics and weeks.
- Engage students in deep not just shallow learning activity
- Communicates clear and high expectations to students.
Adapted from Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) and Gibbs and Simpson (2004)
These are principles of ‘good assessment design for the development of learner self-regulation’. The first seven are about using assessment tasks to develop learner independence or learner self-regulation ("empowerment"). The final four principles are about using assessment tasks to promote time on task and productive learning ("engagement"). Balancing the "engagement" and "empowerment" principles is important in the early years of study. A paper describing the application of these principles to two case studies can be found here.
The REAP project: A wider set of principles
The twelve formative assessment principles in the table below were developed through the REAP project. They provide guidance for teachers interested in improving the quality of the learning experience of students in higher education. These principles are based on recent research on assessment (Yorke, 1987: Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick 2004, 2006, in press: Boud, 2000: Knight, 2002: Knight and Yorke, 2003), the QAA guidelines on assessment of student learning (2006) and published studies of University policies and practices that are associated with high levels of student success (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh and Whitt, 2003: Tinto, 1991). Overall, this research suggests that independent and lifelong learning, and the academic and social dimensions of learning can be enhanced when formative assessment practices are designed using the ideas expressed in Table 1.
For each principle, a key question is provided that teachers might use to think about, and review, formative assessment practices in their courses or programmes.
Table 1: Principles of good formative assessment and feedback.
- Help clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, standards).
To what extent do students in your course have opportunities to engage actively with goals, criteria and standards, before, during and after an assessment task?
- Encourage ‘time and effort’ on challenging learning tasks.
To what extent do your assessment tasks encourage regular study in and out of class and deep rather than surface learning?
- Deliver high quality feedback information that helps learners self-correct.
What kind of teacher feedback do you provide – in what ways does it help students self-assess and self-correct?
- Provide opportunities to act on feedback (to close any gap between current and desired performance)
To what extent is feedback attended to and acted upon by students in your course, and if so, in what ways?
- Ensure that summative assessment has a positive impact on learning?
To what extent are your summative and formative assessments aligned and support the development of valued qualities, skills and understanding.
- Encourage interaction and dialogue around learning (peer and teacher-student.
What opportunities are there for feedback dialogue (peer and/or tutor-student) around assessment tasks in your course?
- Facilitate the development of self-assessment and reflection in learning.
To what extent are there formal opportunities for reflection, self-assessment or peer assessment in your course?
- Give choice in the topic, method, criteria, weighting or timing of assessments.
To what extent do students have choice in the topics, methods, criteria, weighting and/or timing of learning and assessment tasks in your course?
- Involve students in decision-making about assessment policy and practice.
To what extent are your students in your course kept informed or engaged in consultations regarding assessment decisions?
- Support the development of learning communities
To what extent do your assessments and feedback processes help support the development of learning communities?
- Encourage positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem.
To what extent do your assessments and feedback processes activate your students’ motivation to learn and be successful?
- Provide information to teachers that can be used to help shape the teaching
To what extent do your assessments and feedback processes inform and shape your teaching?
Chickering & Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Undergraduate Education
Good practice in undergraduate education:
- Encourages contacts between students and faculty,
- Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
- Uses active learning techniques
- Gives prompt feedback,
- Emphasizes time on task,
- Communicates high expectations
- Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.
Chickering and Gamson (1991)
Chickering and Gamson (1991), Applying the seven principles of good feedback practice in undergraduate education, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. A useful document with examples of applications of these principles can be found at: