The need to disentangle assessment and feedback in higher education

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Studies in Higher Education, 2021
Issue Date:
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© 2020, © 2020 Society for Research into Higher Education. In contemporary higher education systems, the processes of assessment and feedback are often seen as coexisting activities. As a result, they have become entangled in both policy and practice, resulting in a conceptual and practical blurring of their unique purposes. In this paper, we present a critical examination of the issues created by the entanglement of assessment and feedback, arguing that it is important to ensure that the legitimate purposes of both feedback and assessment are not compromised by inappropriate conflation of the two. We situate our argument in the shifting conceptual landscape of feedback, where there is increasing emphasis on students being active players in feedback processes working with and applying information from others to future learning tasks, rather than regarding feedback as a mechanism of transmission of information by teachers. We surface and critically discuss six problems created by the entanglement of assessment and feedback: students’ focus on grades; comments justifying grades rather than support learning; feedback too late to be useful; feedback subordinated to all other processes in course design; overemphasis on documentation of feedback; and the downgrading of feedback created by requirements for anonymous marking. We then propose a series of strategies for preserving the learning function of feedback, through models that give primacy to feedback within learning cycles. We conclude by offering suggestions for research and practice that seek to engage with the challenges created by the entanglement of assessment and feedback, and that maintain the unique purposes of assessment and feedback.
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