Self-Assessment Does Not Necessarily Mean Self-Grading

Most faculty judiciously avoid having students self-assess because it seems hopelessly naïve to imagine them being able to look at anything beyond the desired grade. Even so, the ability to self-assess skills and completed work is important. Moreover, it is an ability acquired with practice and developed with feedback. It seems like the kind of skill that should be addressed in college. And perhaps there is a way.

Professor Heidi Andrade and doctoral student Ying Du suggest that teachers frame self-assessment as an opportunity for students to reflect on their own work with the goal of learning more, making the work better, and thereby improving the chances for a good grade. In this paradigm, self-assessment is not the same as self-grading. Rather, students are looking at their work and judging the degree to which it reflects the goals of the assignment and the assessment criteria the teacher will be using to evaluate the work.

“Put simply, we see self-assessment as feedback for oneself from oneself.” (p. 160) Students in Andrade’s educational psychology course were given rubrics and checklists for each assignment. Prior to submitting the assignment, students used these assessment tools to judge their work. They were required to submit their self-assessments with the completed work, but their assessments were not graded.

Andrade and Du then conducted a series of interviews with students to explore their reactions to self-assessment conducted this way. They chose their sample purposefully “for its potential to illuminate areas in need of further study, not to represent a larger population.” (p. 163) This limits the generalizability of their findings, but their interviews offer insights into the experience of a population who responded thoughtfully to the experience.

Students in this sample reported that their attitudes toward self-assessment became more positive as their experiences with the process accumulated. Noteworthy was the fact that none of this sample reported having any previous experiences with academic self-assessment. Not surprisingly, they didn’t value their opinions about their work and saw self-assessment as a vehicle for figuring out the teacher’s expectations.

“The difference between self-assessment and giving the teacher what he or she wants was a recurring theme. A few students referred to self-assessment in terms of their own expectations. More often, however, students spoke of the tension between their own and the teacher’s expectations. … Over and over again, students rejected their own judgments of their work in favor of guessing how their teacher or professor would grade it.” (p. 168)

These students reported that their ability to self-assess depended on knowing what the teacher expected. In an appendix Andrade and Du share some of the rubrics and checklists used in this educational psychology course. They are very clear and explicit.

When they self-assessed, these students reported that they checked their work, revised it, and reflected on it more generally. Before this class their self-assessment efforts were “relatively mindless.” (p. 65) But from this experience they learned that careful self-assessment could improve their work to the degree that they did get better grades. Most did not see the larger value of the skill they were developing. Most did not use self-assessment in their other courses. They did see potential value in doing so. “They cited a lack of motivation and a lack of support for self-assessment among the reasons that ‘we slip.’” (p. 166)

Based on their experience and analysis of the interviews, Andrade and Du offer some tentative implications. First, “student self-assessment is feasible and likely to be beneficial if it is employed as a process of having students critically review their own work with an eye for improvement.” (p. 172) They also recommend that teachers share expectations for assignments and define quality. Showing students examples of effective and ineffective pieces of work can help to make those definitions real and relevant.

As this work illustrates, self-assessment need not necessarily be about self-grading. There are ways of framing and then using self-assessment that can help students develop that all-important ability of looking objectively at their work and then making changes that improve its quality.

Reference: Andrade, H., and Du, Y. (2007). Student responses to criteria-referenced self-assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 32 (2), 159–181.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, April 2009.