(Marking assessments and providing feedback) PS 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14

The College internally moderates teachers’ marking of student assessments. It is important for all educational establishments to thoroughly moderate the assessments that teachers’ make. The College wish to ensure that assessment levels assigned to students have integrity, as it is vital to maintain student, teacher and public confidence and set a level of quality for courses (Miller 2000). Bloxham (2009:4) claims that internal moderation is ‘a process for assuring that an assessment outcome is valid, fair and reliable and that marking criteria have been applied consistently’; assessment is an essential requirement that ensures a level of validity and reliability, a procedure crucial to enhancing the quality of learning. An Internal moderator should take an objective stance to assess whether the marker’s judgements and decisions about a student’s work are correct, fair and in accordance with qualification specification (Gravell 2016).

Brooks (2012:63) argues that too much emphasis is placed on assessment, particularly on ensuring reliability through standardisation. Yet, little attention is given to the ‘nature of judgement’ when coming to assessment conclusions. Though internal moderation acknowledges the subjective nature of assessment; it is governed by teacher judgement and perspective (Price et al 2011). It has been argued that no level of internal moderation of assessment against criteria or standards can be completely valid and reliable (Wyatt-Smith et al 2010). Bloxham et al (2011) revealed that teachers tended to make their assessment decisions based on a holistic perspective as opposed to an analytical one solely based on criterion: thus highlighting that the marking and feedback process is one that is difficult to simplify, as numerous external variables may impact upon teachers’ judgements.

Marking assessments has proved to be a challenge for me, as a trainee teacher. The fact that I know the students as individuals influenced my thought process. Marking I suspect would be less emotive process and possibly less of a challenge, if the students were anonymous. I had not expected a vast range of issues arising from the students’ work. Marking assessments was a huge challenge, as students’ had written answers that varied significantly, with some individuals being precise and to the point, whilst others wrote very lengthy answers but barely met the criteria, then others that narrowly missed the criteria. Amongst the assessments there were issues with spelling, punctuation, plagiarism, incorrect use of quotes, as well as referencing errors. The Marking of assessment I had believed was essentially a logical process, but it also became an emotional process for me. Placing a judgement on students’ work in order to define their grade, demonstrates that I approached this task with caution, as I experienced moments of uncertainty. Brooks (2012:66), would suggest that by being a novice to marking, I would be reliant on following rule-based guidelines that cause me to deliberate and scrutinise work, which ‘entails multiple rereads of text, pauses, hesitations and recourse to the mark scheme…to resolve their uncertainty’, this fully expresses the process I went through, being a trainee teacher I recognise I have a lot to learn, marking so far has been the greatest challenge.

Two samples of my marking were moderated by the College and subsequently Internally Verified. I was delighted with the feedback that I was given. It was commented, Excellent feedback to the student, very clear and concise. I feel that the student will be able to use the feedback to improve their assignment.’ The time I devoted to marking individual assessment was aimed at ensuring that my grading was fair. I wished to ensure that feedback I gave was both constructive and motivating, I was determined to be thorough, and avoid mistakes. In preparing myself for the marking process, I reviewed previously marked work (by my colleagues) to gauge the style and content of the marking. This process helped put me at ease; the College had a standardised marking code system, which I felt was fair and manageable. I believed that I would be fully capable of marking students’ work to a similar standard. However, Hand and Clewes (2000) would argue that due to the power relation difference between myself the trainee teacher and the experienced teachers (colleague), my decisions during the marking process would most likely be influenced by my colleagues’ style rather than my own. Through the process of reviewing previously marked work would influence some of my decisions, I believe I am my own agent; my personal and professional judgement would be the dominant factor influencing my marking.

I also thought the actions I was asked to address were fair ‘You have told her which criteria she has met and which she is working towards. You just need to make it clear that her grade is currently a ‘referral’ by writing this. Can you also praise her for working towards her aspirational grade please (which is a grade C)’, it is those extra pieces of advice which will make the grading system transparent, as well as individually relevant to each student. The acknowledgement of a student’s efforts to reach an aspirational grade may help motivate the student to act on the advice given, to enable a higher level achievement. However, Dweck (2012) would argue that a students’ motivation is dependent upon their ‘growth mind-set’; an individual needs to be intrinsically motivated and believe in their ability to want improve and take the advice given. Hattie and Timperley (2007:69) would warn that the use of praise in feedback needs to be carefully constructed, because if praise is directed at the individual it detracts from task, but if the praise is aligned to effort and engagement in the performance of a task, it can promote self-efficiency in learning. Findlater (2016:39) explains that there are different types of marking and feedback, the most effective type is dependent upon the your marking approach and experience with using a variety of types of feedback; a teacher should reflect on what feedback work best in enhancing student learning. Essentially, it is time, experience and reflection that is needed to fully enhance my own practice in regard to marking and providing feedback. However, I am aware that a certain type of feedback that may work for one student, may not work for another. Thus, it is important to know your student, this will inform the context and type of marking style used.

Once the assessment the results were released a week later, I found that the feedback from students was mixed. I was surprised by two students who approached me before our lesson; one said ‘Jenny! You are so cute!’, ‘I love your comments on my work, where you say I did well on certain criteria’. The other student said ‘yeah, you are so nice. When I read that you enjoyed reading my work, it made me feel like it was all worthwhile’, this brought a smile to my face and I was glad my comments had been read and valued. I was careful with my comments, I did not liberally apply personalised comments and praise, I used them with genuine regard for the students’ standard of work. As Gulston (2016) says ‘marking should help to motivate pupils to progress. This does not mean always writing in-depth comments or being universally positive: sometimes short, challenging comments or oral feedback are more effective’, but in this instance positivity in my marking proved to have an impact on my students’ emotions, potentially improving their confidence. Findlater (2016) warns that words of encouragement in marking are overused, it will have a detrimental effect on student confidence should standards not be met in their work on another occasion. Encouraging feedback therefore should be used only when an aspect of a students’ work is particularly significant and worth celebrating.

At the end of the same session one student stayed behind to talk to me, they said ‘Jenny, I’m not going to lie, I was devastated by my mark, I really thought I did a good job and would pass’, ‘When I saw you did not pass me, my heart dropped’, I appreciated that the student was being honest and felt they could approach me, I sensed she needed to be listened to and given reassurance. I remembered marking this individual’s work; parts were rushed with key points missing or misinterpreted. Some of the criteria were close to being completed but more clarity was needed. The student said that my comments made sense; she could see why I wrote them. It was the surprise and disappointment of the result that she felt hard to deal with. Saddler (2009) emphasises that one flaw in having set criterion in assessment, is that students and teachers will have different interpretations of it. This feedback is evidence that the student had a different interpretation to my own. This also highlights to me just how vitally important it is when teaching to be clear about the expectations of assessment criteria. But it also makes me wary of planning sessions that promote learning for assessment as opposed assessment for learning. How much should teaching prepare students for assessment? There needs to be balance should and be determined by the students’ needs.

I could fully empathise with this student; the expression of emotion from the students’ brings out the humanistic side of me. I can see the student’s vulnerability, and feel an element of vulnerability myself. A lot rests on achieving a pass mark; I genuinely want positive outcomes for all of my students’. The feedback needs to helpful and effective in enabling students’ to move forward in their learning. But every student has their own learning journey to follow, their level of ability and knowledge will vary; indicating that their outcomes of achievement will be different also. As a teacher, I recognise that I am on the journey with my students; my influence can have both positive and negative effects on them. I strive to enable all students’ to achieve positive results, but I am aware that this is an idealistic concept. It is important to remain realistic, and demonstrate integrity when marking student assessments.

Interestingly, a recent BBC (2016) report stated Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb (BBC 2012), thinks teachers waste too much time on marking, giving unnecessary feedback to students, suggesting a simple grade is all that is needed.  I recognise the process of marking is time-consuming and cumbersome; however I consider written feedback vital to improving student performance. To simply grade work without feedback could limit a student’s personal progression in learning. Burke and Pierterick (2010) discuss written feedback, explaining that it is grounded in the constructivist theory. It is feedback which helps to scaffold further learning, highlighting gaps in learning, and allows for an achievable goal to be met. In essence written feedback on task-related work provides a more student centred approach to learning, as opposed to issuing a grade that may categorise a student.

I have contemplated at length the student responses I received. I believe if I had simply graded students with no written feedback, I doubt whether a positive relationship would have been developed. It is possible that many more comments and questions would have been asked by students as they searched for an understanding. As Hattie and Timperley (2007:82) claim ‘feedback has no effect in a vacuum; to be powerful in its effect, there must be a learning context to which feedback is addressed’, feedback is a powerful tool in supporting learning and achievement, it scaffolds learning. Should students be given just a grade, they may disregard the opportunity to further develop their thinking and learning.

All of the feedback I have received from colleagues, the moderation team and students, I have considered very carefully. I believe it is important to understand the assessment process from all of the relevant perspectives, as this can enable me to fully develop my skills in this area. I have learnt a huge amount about assessment within the College, it has been a steep learning curve, and I am aware there is much more to be learnt. The results from the assessments have indicated areas of strength as well as weakness in students’ learning. Addressing the identified weaknesses in subsequent teaching sessions provides an opportunity to enhance students’ learning further. It is also an opportunity to celebrate their strengths.

I envisage that marking assessments will continue to be an emotive and challenging aspect of my work as a trainee teacher. I value being able to assess my own students work, as it informs my knowledge of  individual students’ abilities and also helps to inform my practice as a teacher. I also believe it helps the students to consider their learning from the teacher’s perspective, as it gives them guidance of the expectations I have of them. Marking assessments should be a positive process for all, an opportunity for students to demonstrate what progress they have made in their learning, and achieve their target grades.

The marking of assessment and providing useful feedback are both sensitive issues for teachers and students, intellectually and emotionally challenging in various aspects (Bloxham et al 2011; Price et al 2011). Internal Verification is beneficial for both teacher and student to ensure there is validity in the grades given, as well as ensuring that there is integrity throughout the whole assessment process.

BBC (2016) Teachers ‘wasting time on marking in coloured pens’ [Online] Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37705385 [Accessed 5th December 2016]

Bloxham, S. (2009) Marking and moderation in the UK: false assumptions and wasted resources. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 34 (2), 209–220.
Bloxham, S., Boyd, P. and Orr, S. (2011) Mark my words: the role of assessment criteria in UK higher education grading practices. Studies in Higher Education. 36 (6). 655-670

Burke, D. and Pieterick, J. (2010) Giving students effective written feedback. Maidenhead: Open University Press

Brooks, V. (2012) Marking as Judgement. Research Papers in Education. 27 (1). Pp.63-80

Dweck, C.S. (2012) Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. London: Robinson.

Findlater, S. (2016) Bloomsbury CPD Library: Marking and Feedback. London: Bloomsbury Education

Gulston, J. (2016) Teacher’s Toolkit. Meaning, Manageable, Motivating Marking [Online] Available from:http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2016/04/16/back-to-school-marking/%5BAccessed 10th February 2017]

Gravell, A. (2016) Principles and Practices of Assessment. A guide for assessors in the FE and skills sector. 3rd edition. London: Sage Publications

Hattie, J. and Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. 77 (1). 81-112

Miller, (2000) Moderation as a Tool for Continuous Improvement [Online] Available from: http://citrenz.ac.nz/conferences/2000/miller255.pdf [Accessed 10th December 2016]

Price, M., Handley, K. and Millar, J. (2011): Feedback: focusing attention on engagement. Studies in Higher Education. 36 (8). Pp. 879-896

Sadler, D. R. (2009) Indeterminacy in the use of preset criteria for assessment and grading in higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 34(2), 159–179.
Wyatt-Smith, C., Klenowski, V., Gunn, S., 2010. The centrality of teachers’ judgement practice in assessment: a study of standards in moderation. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice. 17 (1), 59–75.

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