Assessment issues arising from Subject Benchmarking Statements

Performance criteria: Table 2

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Performance criteria: Table 2

The interpretation of the subject area x performance criteria grid is subject to a number of important caveats.

  1. The statements vary considerably in how they present their material, so this variation in presentation could be masking meanings that may or may not be there in reality.

  2. The same words (e.g. problem solving) mean different things in different contexts, and it is also possible that different words in different statements carry similar meanings.

  3. Some performance expectations may simply be tacit, implicitly deemed to be so obvious that they do not need to be mentioned. Some may be subsumed by other categories – for example, ‘knowledge’ in the Bloom taxonomy is subsumed by all the other terms.

4 Subjects in which a content dimension is prominent (e.g. those based on science, and/or which have a strong professional orientation) will tend to have more check-marks in the grid than subjects in which the learning process is predominant (e.g. History, Philosophy).

5 The categories are not mutually exclusive – for example, information retrieval overlaps (but is not wholly subsumed by) the personal/technical skills involved in using information and communication technology.

6 Some categories are inapplicable to some subject areas – for instance, safe working practices are relevant to scientific and some professional milieux but are of limited relevance to Philosophy.

7 It is doubtful whether any categorisation can ‘work’ fully across a wide variety of subjects. For some subjects, some of the categories may be better located under different headings: technical expertise in, say, Sociology is very different from that in Architecture.

8 The subject benchmark statements vary with respect to the performance levels that they are trying to index: some offer only threshold criteria, some offer modal or ‘typical’ criteria, and some offer criteria spanning the full range of performance7. As a consequence, an analysis based on anticipated performance levels may miss criteria for stronger performances that are left unarticulated (but would nevertheless be applied in practice).

9 The clustering of subjects is subjective. Archaeology and Geography stand out as examples of subjects which do not fit easily into a single subject cluster, since the nature of the curriculum will depend on the perspective taken in the particular institution concerned. Other subject areas, such as Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism, subsume curricula that will, for example, vary in the extent of their scientific underpinning.

The construction of this grid was based on the subjective, lay, understandings of the author: it cannot therefore be taken as other than propositional, and it may well need to be modified in the light of feedback from those with specialist expertise.
Despite this formidable list of caveats, the grid does not have to claim to be an uncontestable truth in order to prompt useful reflection on the relationship between expectations and performance criteria – disagreements on points of detail (provided that they are not too numerous) are of little significance. One does not see the picture on an advertising hoarding when one is scrutinising the pointillism of the printing.

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