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Ecclestone's Audit Questions

By Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

Kathryn Ecclestone (1994) Understanding assessment: A guide for teachers and managers in post-compulsory education (Leicester: NIACE)

Despite its title, Ecclestone's book is not written for HE but for FE. However the questions still apply, and while some are routinely well covered in HE (and so hardly worth asking), others put their finger on issues so neglected in HE that they are a problem.

One example is expressed in her categories (with its own checklist). Because it is organised around disciplines, in HE teachers are routinely blind to the possibility that students do not share their context of a single discipline. One symptom of this is that most HE teachers assume that "feedback" is purely in order to tune and improve the student's knowledge and skill. Nicol's 7 principles all presuppose this. However Gibbs's 4 principles are about regulating time and effort (not grasp of content). Ecclestone's "guidance and diagnostic assessment" are a reminder that for students, a third regulatory loop (for which they need feedback) is whether they are suited to the course they are on, or whether they should drop out or change course. In all universities, student choice of course, and switching between disciplines is a frequent occurrence, and in Scottish universities where students in the first year take a number of subjects and later specialise, this is central to the university's structure: and has strong implications that assessment should help the students with this choice. Above all, any notion of "assessment for learning" cannot just assess for the aspects of learning that interest staff.

  1. Guidance and diagnostic assessment
    1. Can learners readily gain guidance and information throughout the year?
    2. Can learners obtain general / subject-specific initial diagnostic assessment?
    3. Can learners negotiate an initial action plan?
    4. Are these services coordinated with other forms of guidance and assessment?
    5. How are guidance and diagnostic assessment resourced? [As part of a central service OR of individual programmes OR from external sources]
    6. Do staff have access to training in guidance and diagnostic assessment skills?

  2. Entry to learning programmes
    1. Does each programme have explicit entry criteria?
    2. Do entry procedures provide adequate opportunities for learners to show their potential/current skills and knowledge?
    3. Are learners made aware of how entry decisions are made?
    4. Are opportunities provided for learners to receive accreditation of prior learning?
    5. Do staff receive training in interviewing and selection skills?
    6. Are there opportunities for entry at different times in the year?

  3. Review of progress
    1. Is time built into each programme for individual learners to discuss their progress?
    2. Can learners obtain diagnostic assessment and action planning at the beginning, during, and at the end of their programme?
    3. Are learners given the opportunity to record achievement / assemble a portfolio of evidence?
    4. Are learners made aware of how review of progress can help them?

  4. In-Programme assessment
    1. Are learners able to accumulate competences / grades / credits at regular intervals?
    2. Do programmes plan a number of summative assessment points?
    3. Are the results of in-programme summative assessment used to enhance review of progress?
    4. Can learners receive accreditation of their achievements if they do not complete the programme or qualification?
    5. Are review opportunities provided and time-tabled?

  5. Certification
    1. Do learners have access to flexible accumulation of units / credits?
    2. Do learners receive additional information in the form of references, testimonials, etc.?
    3. Are there a range of end-tests / assessments available?
    4. Is account taken of what information is required for different end-users?
    5. Is the status of Record of Achievement and its "authorship" clear?

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