Standards-based assessment depends on a set of pre-defined statements that outline different levels or standards of achievement in a program, course or assessment component, and that are normally expressed in terms of the stated assessment criteria.
This system of assessment involves awarding marks to students to reflect the level of performance (or standard) they have achieved relative to the predefined standards. Students’ marks, therefore, are not determined in relation to the performance of others, or to a pre-determined distribution of grades.
Standards-based assessment lets students know against which criteria you will judge their work, and the standards attached to each of these criteria. It tells students what performance is required and allows you to gain a sense of how your students are doing overall, based on their achievement of the standards.
[Transcripts of videos]
In these seven videos, academics discuss standards based assessment, ePortfolios and rubrics.
Using standards-based assessment
Standards-based assessment aims to:
- support students as independent learners
- implement defensible, consistent and transparent assessment judgements
- guide and encourage effective student learning using inclusive assessment tasks, aligned with learning outcomes and reflecting the objectives of the course and relevant graduate capabilities and attributes
- adopt fair, valid and reliable measurements of students' performance of the intended learning outcomes
- place greater emphasis on providing useful feedback
- demonstrate students' achievement of consistent academic standards
- respond to the sector-wide standards framework (TEQSA).
In standards-based assessment, marks are awarded to students to reflect the level of performance they have achieved. This means that you can:
- provide much richer information about what you expect your students to achieve by describing what they need to know and be able to do
- provide more-explicit guidance to students
- use criteria and standards to give more-efficient feedback to students about their performance
- differentiate between those students who are performing well and those who aren't
- use the criteria and standards to design more-effective assessment strategies
- encourage consistency among multiple markers by sharing the same marking criteria and standards
- design both the learning outcomes and the assessment standards for your course to include graduate capabilities
- make it easier to give timely and usable feedback.
In addition, standards-based assessment provides guidance to students about what’s important in their learning and assessment, encourages them to understand the goals and standards so that they can to study towards them and fosters marking consistency over time. The emphasis is on the quality of each student's work as it stands against objective, observable criteria, without any comparison to other students' work – or, indeed, to how that student may have done on previous assessments. This increases fairness and transparency, and provides a consistent and objective way to manage disputes about marking.
As you implement standards-based assessment in your course, ensure that:
- the course's learning outcomes clearly identify criteria that indicate what students are expected to master
- assessment tasks have been chosen that will appropriately assess the learning outcomes
- the qualitative standards or levels of expected performance for the assessment tasks have been described in terms that are observable and measurable
- the criteria and standards for the assessment tasks have been organised in a marking scheme (or rubric) that is available to both staff and students (ideally, in the course outline)
- moderation has been planned so that markers can develop a shared understanding of, and consistently apply, the expected standards
- you have planned for explaining the marking scheme to students prior to the task, and for providing targeted feedback after marking.
You may want to give students exemplars that show the kind of work you're looking for, and include opportunities throughout the course for self- and peer-assessment.
In Moodle, you can create marking guides and rubrics for any assessment activity.
Developing assessment criteria and standards is a complex and iterative task. Some of the difficulties for staff include:
- the time required to develop criteria and standards for all assessment tasks
- difficulty in changing traditional ways of assessing, with their roots in the standard normal curve ideology
- the different forms that criteria and standards required to assess different types of performance
- the need to trial tasks and assessment processes to ensure clear divisions between levels of achievement when developing standards of achievement
- the danger of being too prescriptive; that is, not valuing creativity enough.
Other difficulties arise when the terms "criteria" and "standards" are used interchangeably; in fact, they are quite distinct. Criteria are the aspects an assessor will be looking at when assessing students' performance, whereas standards are the descriptions of the various levels of achievement students may attain. For example, a criterion may be "Quantity and formatting of references". The associated standards might be "Student does not include references", "Student includes some references but does not consistently apply the university's standard referencing style", "Student includes some references, which are consistently formatted according to the university's standard referencing style", and "Student includes an appropriate number of references, which are consistently formatted according to the university's standard referencing style".
To avoid confusion and to increase the consistency and objectivity (and, therefore, fairness) of the marks given, standards should be observable and measurable, and terms (such as "an appropriate number of references" in the example above) should be clearly defined in the course outline. Phrases such as "student understands the course content" are neither observable nor measurable, and can (and usually do) result in confusing and inconsistent marking that does not help students identify how they can improve.
- Practical Guidelines for Designing Rubrics
- Tip Sheet: Designing Analytical Rubrics
- TEQSA website (Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency)
Ragupathi, K., & Lee, A. (2020). Beyond fairness and consistency in grading: The role of rubrics in higher education. In C. S. Sanger and N. W. Gleason (Eds), Diversity and inclusion in global higher education (pp. 73-95). Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning, National University of Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1628-3_3