spiral staircase

The Lifecycle of Assessment Moderation

As we approach Session 2, you may be rethinking your assessments and their moderation in accordance with Macquarie’s policy, especially if you work with teaching and marking teams.

What is Assessment Moderation? I heard someone say the other day “It’s when you discuss and agree with your marking team which assignments deserve an HD or what is expected of students”. Well, assessment moderation is that and much more.

According to Macquarie’s Assessment Policy Schedule 5 “moderation refers to a range of activities which provide confirmation that, at all stages of the assessment lifecycle, assessment has been conducted in accordance with the Policy”.

I asked Rod Lane, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Educational Studies who teaches both undergraduate and postgraduate units in assessment at Macquarie, to explain:

Lilia: Rod, how would you describe Assessment Moderation in your own words?

Moderation processes ensure that judgements about student performance are both reliable and valid.  This means that assessment tasks consistently and accurately measure learning and that grades on individual tasks align with the university grade descriptors.

To achieve this, quality assurance mechanisms are required at all stages of the assessment lifecycle including the design of assessment tasks and marking guidelines, pre-marking activities, marking and grading processes and post-marking review and reflection.

Lilia: What do these look like in practice? Can you give examples?

The following provides some examples of moderation considerations and practices at each stage of the assessment lifecycle.

Setting and modification of assessment criteria and standards

The moderation and quality assurance process begins at the curriculum design phase.  At this stage it is important for unit convenors to ensure that unit learning outcomes focus on core knowledge and skills and link to program learning outcomes. This alignment is important as it provides the foundation for designing assessment items.

The design of assessment tasks and marking guidelines

At this stage it is important to ensure that assessment tasks:

  • address the skill and knowledge components identified in the unit learning outcomes
  • have clear instructions and an appropriate workload
  • can be completed within a reasonable time period
  • have a clear statement of criteria (rubric) as well as a detailed marking scheme.  Where appropriate, convenors should provide sample responses (or extracts of model responses to illustrate the criteria).

Marking guidelines should:

  • align with the generic grade descriptors in Schedule 1 of the Assessment Policy
  • clearly differentiate levels of achievement
  • use language that is accessible to both students and staff

Pre marking

Before the marking process begins, it is vital that all assessors have a shared understanding of the criteria and what different levels of performance look like. Ideally, this will involve teaching teams collaboratively developing task instructions/marking criteria and analysing (“unpacking”) benchmark scripts.

Marking and post-marking

A number of processes can be employed during the marking phase to ensure that judgements about student performance against the criteria are accurate, consistent and fair. This includes the double marking of all fails and HDs. Assessments that are sitting on a grade cutoff should also be double marked.

Review, evaluation and refinement of practice

The end of the marking period is a good time to review the design of your tasks and marking criteria.  This is best done collaboratively if you are part of a teaching team.  Key questions for consideration:

  • Do the tasks assess important knowledge and skill outcomes?
  • Was the task type fit for purpose?
  • Did the task instructions allow students to demonstrate their achievement against the criteria?
  • Did the marking descriptors adequately capture differences in the quality of student responses?
  • Did students achieve the learning outcomes? Why? Why not?

Lilia: I noticed you’re using particularly terminology around assessment. Can you clarify these terms?

Confusion about the definition of terms can make it difficult to develop a shared understanding of quality assessment practices.

Here are some key terms that both convenors and students need to understand:

Learning Outcomes – describe what a learner is expected to know, understand, and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning.  They are expressed in terms of the dimensions of knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills  (The AQF Second Edition January 2013, p. 11).

Rubrics – provide a brief outline of the assessment criteria.  They outline the properties or characteristics used to judge the quality of student performance.  The purpose of a rubric is to help focus student attention and highlight the factors that will be considered in the assessment of their work. Rubrics signal to students what is valued in an assessment task They enable informed decision making which, in turn, promotes student autonomy and ownership of learning (Panadero & Romero, 2014).

Marking scales/guidelines – provide descriptions of levels of performance against the criteria for a specific task (often in the form of a matrix). Marking scales/guidelines are important because they: (1) promote a common understanding of levels of student performance against criteria (2) reduce student anxiety about expectations (3) provide a tool for self-evaluation and (3) facilitate increased efficiency in marking and grading processes. Marking scales/guidelines need to be aligned with BOTH the unit learning outcomes and MQ grade descriptors.

In essence, as I understand, assessment moderation is about making sure we assess students fairly, and articulate assessment tasks and marking criteria clearly (to staff and students) and in alignment with learning outcomes. 

Thanks Rod! 

Rod Lane has previously posted about assessment here and here, contact Rod if you have any further questions regarding assessment and its moderation.

Read other posts on assessment:

Redesigning Programs and Unit Assessments – Key Points From A Seminar

Marks are a phony currency

More On Marking: Rubrics, Feedback and Team Marking

2 thoughts on “The Lifecycle of Assessment Moderation”

  1. In theory this is sound practice but the reality is that departments use casual markers to mark many assignments. They are not compensated for any additional time for activities such as pre-marking meetings to discuss and agree grade criteria. Double marking if fail or HD grades is also not factored in, as far as I am aware.
    In addition the time allocation for marking assessment tasks is so tight that most markers must make a choice between doing a timely but less rigorous assessment or marking comprehensively without adequate compensation.
    These are resourcing issues the university needs to address if it wants to see improvements/equity/ in outcomes of student assessments.

    1. Dear Robyn, thank you for your response and expressing valid concerns here. We acknowledge these issues are real. This post aims to clarify and define what moderation is (from a best practice point of view) as not everyone understands the term ‘moderation’ or some engage in moderation exercises but don’t realise they do. We also hope that assessment moderation as a quality assurance mechanism and time and budget concerns associated with it are brought into the conversation of allocating markers or marking hours.

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