Spring and fall semesters are inevitable agents of change in higher education institutions. The change is largely driven by assessment practices in as much as the teaching and learning practices. Time has once again come for the faculty of Royal University of Bhutan to engage in evaluating students’ works. This time around, a sea of papers filled with students’ semester-long works vie for tutors’ attention, albeit the papers already pored through with critiques thrown where appropriate as part of formative assessment practices. Assessments at the end of a semester are mostly the evaluation of answer scripts of the examinations conducted to assess students’ cumulative learning over the course of the semester. The significance of the trails of ticks and crosses left by tutors’ wielding of red-inked pens, one of the assessment heritages, can only be imagined as much as the tutors’ scope of prognoses of the longevity of the marks along the developmental trajectory of students’ education—short term and long term. While the only constant of an insight into future trajectory is uncertainty, the trails of red-inked pens can be made more relevant to the future prospects of the students by deploying a set of professionally crafted guidelines when maneuvering the strokes of the pens manifest in ticks and crosses. The guidelines will enhance the independence of the maneuvers from their susceptibility to influences by student, tutor, test, and environment.
It is a fact that all students are equally important, but some students gain more prominence in their tutors. The path to prominence is mostly crafted by the students through their participation in the class and other subtle communication signals like academic diligence and rigor in their assignments and interactions. Because the questions in the examination papers are only a sample of evaluative tools drawn across an array of lesson topics discussed in the semester, it is likely that a student of prominence did not get all the questions right. Influenced by the prominence, the tutor might find it difficult to accept the fact that the student did not know the answers, yet they might compel themselves to look for unfounded maneuvers to use more ticks than crosses. Under such intuitive compulsion, leniency and grace play up and prominent students get more ticks where full crosses would have been appropriate. Masking student identity will make the evaluation of answer scripts independent of his/her prominent characteristics that are not part of the expected responses to the examination questions.
Deadlines, cultural heritages of academia, keep the river of teaching flowing through endless knot of a timeframe that often short-stretch tutors’ capacity to strategize any adhocracies. Any alternate remedies to mend the disruption of the flow is never close to the continuity without taking their tolls elsewhere in the entirety of the timeframe. The tolls can be qualitative or quantitative; either way they impact student learning. Assessments are there to evaluate what is taught, and thus the tutors design assessment strategies. However, remote from the adjustments, the assessment strategies may belie the scope of learning and make students responses half correct or all incorrect and yet the tutors wield the red-inked pens, throwing ticks and crosses, oblivion to the gap akin to evaluating what was not properly taught in the class for the reasons related to adhocracies in the timeframe. The other area where tutors’ influence play up is when they did not write answers to the questions themselves before wielding the red-inked pens on students’ responses. This brings in comparative marking where a student’s responses regulate the standards of another student’s responses; not the true standards of responses expected for the questions. This phenomenon enables the student-derived responses to subjugate the true standards. In addition, tutors’ familiarity with some students may motivate them to wield the red-inked pen beyond what is called for by the students’ responses. Finally, the accountability factor tied to the test scores may cast its shadow on the trust-worthiness of the narratives and the likelihood of repetitive patterns in the narratives over time. Developing a well-defined set of model responses and marking criteria and adhering to them when marking will make the maneuvers independent of tutors’ idiosyncrasies. This approach of evaluation could avoid the biasness in evaluation, and instead enhance the learning in the students and the tutors.
Test is a work of art and science. Due diligence should go into developing a test—it is not an overnight creation. Days on end, as a test gests constructed, tutors initiate a well-developed test building process. Spreading the questions across the lesson topics, identifying the cognitive processes to evoke in the responses, designing the right strategies to evoke the desired cognitive processes, setting point values for the correct responses, and presenting the questions as an examination paper is a task in itself that challenges the tutors. The challenges are implicit in the trust-worthiness of the point values and the likelihood of the repetitive patterns of the point values that the test generates as they are used for creating narratives about the students. A typical impact of deviating from the set procedure is giving a ghost mark, alias bonus mark, as a maneuver to mitigate the disastrous effect of deviance. Therefore, following the procedures will enhance the reliability and the validity of the test.
Environment as understood in relation to an examination, begins from the day a test paper is conceived to the day a test report is declared. An environment that is built for an occasion brings a sense of purpose and this effect is no exception to examinations. Teachers and students alike should feel the environment of examination within which the former would prepare the best test and the later would prepare to write the best responses to the testing strategies or items on the test. Other aspects of the test environment are physical settings where examinations take place and eventual evaluation of answer-scripts are organized. Noise, temperature, furniture, and administrative services may define the efficiency of the physical settings. On the other hand, time and administrative services may influence the evaluation of answer-scripts. Nature and nurture, as debated in developmental psychology, have relevance to the assessment because assessors focus on the standard of responses which should be independent of nurturing noises of the environment at the time of assessment.
The attributes discussed have significant bearings on the degree of uncertainty in the narrative prognoses drawn from students’ examination results, aggregated values, derived from the point values assigned to the strokes of red-inked pens. Error is part of assessment practices, a fact that the community of assessment authorities gladly accepts, but a careful consideration of the attributes will certainly reduce the degree of uncertainty and increase the trust-worthiness and consistency of the narrative prognoses over time as students advance in their education. While the debate has been never-ending, good suggestions for making the narratives trust-worthy and consistent personality marks of students are aplenty. The suggestions may monitor the pulse of consciousness and conscience in the assessors’ strokes of the red-inked pens as they maneuver the students’ responses and enable them to dissociate the strokes of their red-inked pens from influencing the maneuvers.
PhD, Lecturer, PCE
PhD, Lecturer, PCE
Tandin K Wangchuk,
Assistant Professor, PCE