Assessment issues arising from Subject Benchmarking Statements


Education and Management 5



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Education and Management 5 (1), pp.81-96.


1 Alstete (1995) discusses, in general terms, the use of benchmarking in higher education.

2 The benchmark performances take into account a number of background variables which would otherwise make comparisons more difficult.

3 A few of these subject benchmark statements have been subdivided. Here, Architecture, Architectural Technology and Landscape Architecture, and Social Work and Social Policy are treated separately since there are full separate statements for each. Other subjects within a subject benchmark statement are less fully disaggregated and have been taken together.

4 There are no subject benchmark statements for Masters level programmes and only one for the DipHE level [Nursing, in press].

5 See Box 1 and Appendix 1 in Jackson, 2001, and Table 1 later in this report.

6 ‘Performance expectations’ subsumes both performance criteria and articulated expectations.

7 See Table 1 and Jackson, 2001 (Box 1 and Appendix 1).

8 Even if the student is given feedback regarding the components of the submitted task.

9 Similar examples from other statements could have been cited.

10 In practice, the volume of business transacted at the typical final examination board in a modular scheme makes it difficult for such consideration of an individual candidate’s performances to be other than rudimentary.

11 There is a reference in this subject benchmark statement to ‘considered judgement’ in respect of a design’s relationship to its cultural environment, which has been interpreted as evaluative in intent.

12 Nine of the ten statements that refer formally to excellence or ‘first classness’ appear to allow for the demonstration of synthesis in Bloom’s sense. These are Architecture; Architectural Technology; Chemistry; Earth Sciences etc.; Education Studies; Engineering; General Business and Management; Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism; and Social Work.

13 It was noted earlier that the level H descriptor in the National Qualifications Framework (QAA, 2001) referred instead to qualities and skills necessary for employment.

14 Data provided by Jackson (1998, p.56) shows the perceived importance of teamwork and communication across seven BEng programmes.

15 ‘Capability’ is a broad construct which refers to a person’s ability to be effective in the world, and hence subsumes personal and interpersonal skills as well as disciplinary expertise. See Stephenson (1998) for an elaboration.

16 The number of ‘O’s marked against numeracy in Table 1 suggests that numeracy is quite often seen as an enabling skill, rather than as something that has to be assessed directly.

17 For a more recent brief critique that is both serious and satirical in style, see Wragg’s (2001) comments on the objectives-led approach to teacher education in England and Wales. In the same issue of the Times Educational Supplement, Mansell (2001) reported that the Teacher Training Agency was streamlining the 800-odd objectives as a consequence of a consultation exercise. He also reported that universities had complained that the objectives were too numerous to verify, and that a poll conducted by the National Primary Teacher Education Conference had found a substantial majority of respondents agreeing that the sheer volume of standards had made it easier to hide course weaknesses from inspectors.

18 The point is important since the ‘outside world’ is likely to judge the standard(s) of higher education by the standards actually achieved by graduates and other awardees, rather than the standards set for them (see Yorke, 1997).

19 The specific reference here was to ‘instruction in skills suitable to play a part in the general division of labour’. This was placed first, not because the Robbins Committee necessarily believed it was the most important of the four aims it enunciated, but because of the danger of its being undervalued or ignored. There seems little of this danger at present.

20 Note that the last of these is of quite a different order from the preceding three.

21 The National Qualifications Framework (QAA, 2001) has eschewed reference to key skills, preferring instead to refer to ‘qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment’. These are more extensive at H level (Bachelor’s degree with honours) than at the lower C and I levels.

22 However, the employability indicator seems set to reflect whether graduates get a job, rather than whether the job is appropriate to a graduate. ‘Employability’ has an alternative meaning which reflects the capacity of a person to undertake a ‘graduate job’, which is more difficult to turn into an unambiguous indicator.

23 Peter Knight should be credited with this observation.

24 See Boud and Feletti (1997) for an elaboration.

25 Which side of the 2.1 / 2.2 dividing line a student ends up on is of importance (for example, it opens up more research opportunities to have gained a 2.1), but the modal honours degree performance is typically described in terms of being at this cusp. Discrimination is particularly problematic at this point since even a small amount of unreliability in grading can tip the balance one way or the other.

26 Misplaced precision is not unknown, as in the group of assessors of student presentations on a Business Studies degree who spent an inordinate amount of time arguing whether a presentation was worth 63 or 64% when the final figure was to be scaled to a score out of 20 – a net difference of 0.2 of a percentage point.

27 A useful analogy here might be a tennis ball – a tightly prescribed sphere but with a woolly coating.

28 The text of the ‘Joint Declaration of the European Ministers of Education Convened in Bologna on the 19th 1999’ can be found electronically at www.med-net.nl/topics/news/bologna.htm .



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