Marking (in)consistency – the elephant in the assessment room?

In September 2006 Banksy (briefly) included a painted "Elephant in the Room" in his LA show

In a thought-provoking article, available online ahead of publication in the February 2012 edition of Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, Teresa McConlogue looks into the pedagogical benefits of peer assessment. Her paper But is it fair? Developing students’ understanding of grading complex written work through peer assessment¬†focuses on work conducted with engineering students at Queen Mary University of London.

Two distinct cohorts of students were required to peer assess a piece of coursework, leading to generation of a summative mark; a laboratory report (n=56, 10% of mark for module) and a literature review (n=26, 25%). Each piece of work was assessed by 4 or 5 peers who were required to provide both a mark and comments on the work. The students were then awarded the mean mark.

Thus far there is nothing exceptional about this process – peer assessment is an established practice in Higher Education (see, for example, Paul Orsmond’s excellent guide on Self- and Peer-Assessment). The controversial element of McConlogue’s activity comes with the fact that the authors of the peer-assessed work were provided with all of the comments made by their contemporaries AND a full record of the range of marks awarded. This “warts and all” approach exposed the students to the mechanics of marking – showing them both the reasoning that went into a mark (some of which seemed poorly aligned with the mark awarded or based on ‘trivialities’) and the fact that an individual “rogue” mark may have significantly influenced the mean. In some cases the individual marks awarded apparently spanned¬†¬†several grade boundaries.

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