July 9th, 2009

Can Students Accurately Self Assess?


Can students accurately assess their work? Most of us would say no with some conviction. But could they accurately evaluate their work under conditions that separated the grade they’d like to receive from the one they think their work deserves? A study in Great Britain found that they could. Even more surprising, the 160 students in this sample were first semester college students. The researcher asked them to estimate their grade on completed work using a 100 percentage point scale and 60 percent of them were within 10 percent of the grade given by the teacher. Equally surprising was the fact that when students were not within 10 percent, under-evaluation occurred more often than over-evaluation. Almost 60 percent under estimated their grade.

There is no question that the pressure to get good grades makes it difficult for students to be objective about their work, especially if they think there’s a ghost of a chance that their assessments might influence how the teacher judges their work. Still, the ability to make accurate judgments about one’s work is such an important professional skill. Granted, in most professions people don’t assign points to whatever they do, but they do need to be able to look at something they’ve completed and determine if they’ve done what they were asked to do and if the quality meets appropriate standards. Practice is an essential part of learning how to make those judgments accurately and objectively.

I found the results of this study promising. It shows that even beginning students (and a fairly substantial number of them) can render accurate judgments about their work when they are asked to evaluate it, independent of grading it. However, other research has shown that students are quite mystified as to the purpose behind teachers’ requests to self assess. They don’t understand why the teacher who has complete control over the grade would ask them to evaluate their work. Teachers need to explore with students the role of this skill in professional contexts and then design activities that give students the opportunity to practice and develop the skill—which is not the same as asking them to “grade” their work.

Reference: Cassidy, S. (2007). Assessing “inexperienced” students’ ability to self-assess: exploring links with learning style and academic personal control. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 32 (3), 313-330. [Note: I’ve only highlighted the key finding of this study. It addressed a number of other intriguing questions and is definitely worth taking a look at.]