V. Gynnild

NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NORWAY)
Assessment is at the heart of the student experience and is therefore of considerable interest to the higher education sector and beyond. Given the centrality of assessment a set of guidelines, or policy, are frequently used by institutions to facilitate learning and ensure fair grading of candidates.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary a policy can be defined as a “course or method of action selected from among alternatives … to guide and determine present and future decisions”. The purpose of an assessment policy is not to prescribe methods, but rather to equip stakeholders with a set of criteria for critical self-evaluation, including the possibility of future improvements. The current study draws on data from five universities on four continents. The institutions were randomly picked with a particular focus on their assessment policies. The following research questions are explored:

Which are the most frequent assessment principles as demonstrated in the respective policies, and which are included only occasionally? How can an assessment policy be evaluated? Since there is no official policy template, institutions select content according to their perceived needs and preferences. However, the soundness of assessment is often justified by reference to principles, and assessment practices often need to be able to withstand public scrutiny as part of quality assurance procedures.

This study identified totally 24 principles; however, some of which occurred only once or twice in the sample. The most frequently used criteria were, in order: Transparent, reliable, aligned, equitable, educative and ethical. The criteria and their justification are considered, and a selection of additional principles are discussed in terms of their relevance and applicability as part of an institutional policy. The study draws on assessment theory to judge the relevance of principles included in the policies.

The author does not generalize beyond the selected sample; however, the discussion and justification of assessment principles will still be of general interest to those who wish to enhance the soundness of assessment in courses or programs. In times when digital assessment is in high demand, it is essential to remember that technologies are always a means towards ends, not ends by themselves. The validity of any assessment system can only be decided by reference to a sound assessment policy.