Equitable Assessment for a Diverse Student Population - Pilot Study 2008-9

Research team led by Professor Christine Hockings and Samantha McGinty.  Under graduate student co-researchers: Parveen Bhatti, Sabiha Bibi, Susan Murphy, Sonia Sahota, Leena Sandhu, Elizabeth Thomas, Beverley Westwood, Simone Wilson

Whilst university teachers have developed efficient ways of assessing more students, recent research suggests they may not be effective for assessing and valuing the knowledge and skills that students from a range of backgrounds bring. 

This ‘pilot study’ explored the ways in which first-year students from diverse backgrounds within two subjects (Education and Social Science) experienced assessment.

An important aim was to identify, from the students’ own testimonies, aspects of assessment that could account for variation in attainment and satisfaction with assessment that has been reported in recent studies (e.g.Broecke and Nicholls 2007, Connor et al. 2004, ECU/HEA 2008, Surridge 2007). 

A key feature of the research design was the use of students as co-researchers.  In Spring 2008 we recruited and began training 8 third-year student-researchers who would eventually become part of the research team.  By October they had carried out initial interviews with a total of 92 students.  Each student-researcher then held at least 3 in-depth semi-structured follow-up interviews (26 in total) which were digitally recorded and transcribed. 

The student-researchers subsequently analysed the pooled set of data under the guidance and supervision of experienced researchers and submitted their individual contributions to independent tutors for assessment.  This pilot provided the opportunity for students to learn through enquiry in an authentic research setting (Jenkins et al 2003).   

Key Findings

Key findings from this pilot suggested that students from a range of ethnic backgrounds and age groups believe that  assessment is fair and equitable and that poor grades are due to some failing on the student’s part such as a lack of effort, subject knowledge, academic writing or IT skills.

However, students also felt that the methods and language of assessment were confusing and the requirements often contradictory. They felt that ‘too many assignments given all at once’ with too ‘short time to do them’ limited their capacity to perform to their best.  Certain assignments did not allow students to ‘express yourself well…’  Students also called for more choice ‘instead of just writing essays all the time.’  

Whilst there was no evidence of variation in experience along ethnic or gender lines, further analysis suggested that students from white British backgrounds felt more relaxed about assessment than their peers from South Asian, African and Caribbean backgrounds.

There were a small number of individual cases indicating that ethnic origin, age and/or family background may have influenced the ways some students experienced assessment.  However, there was insufficient evidence in this small pilot, or indeed within the literature (see Connor et al 2004 and Richardson 2008), to suggest that the experiences of minority ethnic students are sufficiently inferior to those of white students to explain variation in performance.

Further research is needed in order to investigate these issues further and across a wider range of subjects. 

Have a look at the full report of the pilot study. (word doc -223k- opens in a new window