In-class assessment

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 What do we mean when we say ‘In-class assessment’?

Some assessments take place during class time, usually as part of a seminar. These tend to be formative but can also be summative. In-class assessments also tend to happen in short time periods, so that teaching and learning time is not cut short. In-class assessments can be one-off events or they could be arranged in series. The scheduling of in-class assessment needs to be shared and known, so that students are not unduly impacted if they miss class for legitimate reasons. This particular assessment condition tends to work best for discrete assessments such as MCQs, objective tests, oral presentations and problems sets. For in-class assessments using methods more typically used under exam conditions, such as long and short answer formats; multiple choice questions, and problem sets, there should also be careful consideration of logistical issues such as desk spacing; the physical layout of the room, and arrangements for invigilation.

What are assessment conditions?

It is useful to bear in mind that what is sometimes referred to as an assessment method is, in fact, only the condition in which the assessment takes place and thus only one of several choices to be made in assessment design. The term ‘in-class assessment’ mainly describes the conditions under which an assessment will take place – it does not describe the method by which the students will be assessed. Assessment conditions establish the parameters of assessment but within each of these assessment conditions a number of assessment methods may be used. Reflecting on the purpose, timing and assessment mix should help with decisions regarding assessment conditions.

Advantages of in-class assessment

  • Takes place in a controlled environment.
  • Can be quite a low-stress condition for students.
  • Feedback can be quite speedy and can enhance student learning.
  • Can be used for single individuals, groups or whole classes.
  • Marking and feedback load is low.

Challenges of in-class assessment

  • Needs to be carefully timetabled and balanced against other in-class activities.
  • If assessment tasks are perceived as having no impact on learning or course success then students may not be fully engaged.
  • Classroom conditions are not always ideal for students to fully focus.
  • Summative in-class assessments should be supported by earlier formative in-class events.

How students might experience in-class assessment

It is important to consider the way that in-class assessments are explained to students. Some methods of in-class assessment might be perceived as being more stressful than others. Some students excel in presentations and others find this rather nerve-wracking. Some students like regular testing of their skills through weekly MCQs or problem sets and others prefer to accumulate knowledge before they are tested. Since in-class assessments happen before a course has finished, some students might not feel ready. Generally, in-class assessments are perceived by teachers as being a low-stakes activity but it is important to gauge the student perspective and work to ensure they are fully informed.

Reliability, validity, fairness and inclusivity of in-class assessment

To ensure assessment validity and fairness, in-class assessments should only reflect and test the learning that has happened up to that point and that the assessment tool, marking criteria and marker take this into account. Teachers should also reflect on the inclusive nature of the in-class assessments they design (see ‘Accessible assessment’ for more information), focussing on students’ specific educational needs but also considering their emotional needs.

How to maintain and ensure rigour in in-class assessment

Whole class events such as MCQ tests are subject to the usual issues of marking and moderation and should follow departmental practice. Individual assessments, such as oral presentations, can be difficult to moderate when used summatively; clear marking criteria, records and teacher notes can aid exam board and external examiners (see ‘oral presentations’ for more guidance). During some methods of in-class assessment (such as presentations) markers should take steps to avoid the 'halo' effect, where one or two positive characteristics of a student overly influence the marker.

How to limit possible misconduct in in-class assessment

As in-class assessments happen under the eye of the teacher/examiner there is little opportunity for academic misconduct. It is relatively easy for a teacher/examiner to have an overview of the class and to check for the use of prohibited notes, material and/or digital devices. Anonymity in in-class assessment is not usually possible and teachers should reflect on methods to deal with this. If students are asked to prepare something in advance of the class, then there is a possibility that they obtain notes and material and try to pass it off as their own. This can be countered through good assessment procedures – where students are tasked to explain and examine information rather than to simply state answers. Misconduct can also be limited through teacher questions and follow-up questions that seek to demonstrate ownership and examine a student’s capacity to think on their feet.

Accessible assessment in in-class assessment

There are practical design issues to consider when using in class assessments to assess students who are either physically impaired; have mental health difficulties; specific learning differences, or Autism Spectrum Condition. Wherever possible design issues should be addressed in the initial course design phase. The Accessible Assessment area of this toolkit provides further information about how this might be achieved. This is a guide and should be treated as such. In all cases the experiences of individual students can be diverse. You should always consult the student’s inclusion plan as well as speaking to the student directly. The discussion in this section is drawn on the work of the Inclusive Practice community at Sheffield Hallam University who we wish to acknowledge and thank.

Physically impaired students

It is important for teachers to reflect on whether the physical task of completing an in-class assessment creates any barriers for the student. If the assessment involves group working at any stage teachers will need to consider if the format of the assessment has any impact on the student’s ability to contribute fully to the group task. For example, do the marking criteria allow marks to be awarded for contribution to the content/data collection of a poster if a student cannot take part in the physical process of making a poster? It is also important for teachers to consider the accessibility of the physical environment where the in-class assessment will take place and whether the physically impaired student has any related communication difficulties. Teachers should examine the task’s marking criteria and examine whether they feel some of these need to be re-visited to ensure equity of assessment experience.

Students with specific learning differences (SpLD)

Time management can be a particular issue for students with SpLD and if the in-class assessment requires students to work in groups it is good practice to ask all groups to draw up a timetable of tasks to aid with this process. If all the other group members decide to leave the work to the last minute the student with SpLD may be doubly penalized! Students with SpLD may therefore need teachers’ support to help motivate other members of the group. If the in-class assessment includes MCQs or objective tests one of the key issues can be the wording of questions and in particular the question distracters. Teachers should ensure that they do not use any language based ‘tricks’ such as similarly spelt or sounding words as distracters. This does not mean that questions should be easy, rather that all distracters should be plausible. Many students with SpLD will be articulate and prefer verbal communication to writing. Others may have difficulty in this area and it can be a source of real anxiety. Students with dyslexia may find the pronunciation of multisyllabic words difficult, or misuse words that sound similar. They may also experience the feeling of going ‘blank’ and have difficulty finding the word they are looking for. More generally reading out loud can present difficulties, particularly when faced with unfamiliar words. Teachers should seek ways to try and make the in-class assessment as inclusive and low stress as possible. If students are to be asked to engage with on written material in an in-class assessment they should be presented with this material in advance to allow them time to read it.

Students with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC)

The term ‘Autism Spectrum Condition’ (ASC) is used to describe the range of the autism spectrum, including Asperger syndrome. Students with ASC will often have difficulties with social interaction and their body language and eye contact may appear ‘awkward’. Teachers should be aware of this when marking oral contributions and marks should not be deducted for this reason. If a student has a particular difficulty with oral contributions a reasonable adjustment may be to allow them to write a script and read from it. If the assessment requires students to ‘role play’ teachers should be aware that some students with ASC will find it difficult to envisage themselves in a particular role. Group-work can also be difficult for some students with ASC. Unpredictable changes in routine can result in confusion and upset and may give rise to behaviour others find challenging. Clear guidelines need to be set - addressing roles and responsibilities within the group, a timetable for group meetings and what the group’s assessed outputs should ‘look’ like. Teachers should also be aware that students with ASC can be very dedicated to the work in hand if it is something they find interesting and should therefore be explicit about how much work needs to be undertaken, especially if it will not form a high percentage of the overall mark.

Students with mental health difficulties

Medication can have side effects such as tremors or involuntary movements making co-ordination difficult. Memory, concentration and speech can also all be affected, with speech becoming slurred, slow and/or hurried. Where students experience these kinds of side effects an assessment that requires oral contributions can present particular difficulties causing anxiety and embarrassment. A student should not be penalized for any of these types of behaviours and the marking criteria should reflect this. Teachers should consider strategies to reduce anxiety or embarrassment because of the side effects of medication. For example, a student could have the choice to make a presentation to the marker rather than the whole group, or provide written forms of class participation rather than spoken forms. If the in-class assessment involves some form of peer assessment thought needs to be given to the assessment strategy and criteria to prevent the student from being disadvantaged, and minimize anxiety and the feeling that the individual rather than the piece of work is being critiqued. The student may need help to break down large projects into small chunks with associated deadlines! The student will be doubly penalized if their group chooses to leave all the work until the last minute. Encouraging students with mental health issues to draw up a work timetable can help them structure their time, and might be one of the first activities teachers ask all groups to undertake.


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