Programme-level assessment environment

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An assessment regime at programme-level should ensure intellectual development and skills progression and enable students to see the interconnectedness of their learning through assessment across the degree. The assessment continuum demonstrates how assessment is interwoven in the programme of study and it positions assessment to be more than an end product of learning, but a stepping stone to further learning.

Prog level assessment env diagram 1

As students are engaged through the assessment continuum, it is important to create an effective programme-level assessment environment for a holistic and consistent student experience. A programme-level assessment environment influences students’ approach to learning, their sense of a learning community and their experience of continuity over the duration of their degree programme. Gibbs and Dunbar-Goddet conducted case studies at Oxbridge, Pre-92 and Post-92 universities and identified nine aspects that characterise a programme-level assessment environment for students:

  • the percentage of marks derived from examinations; 
  • the variety of assessment methods; 
  • the volume of summative assessment; 
  • the volume of formative assessment; 
  • the volume of oral feedback; 
  • the volume of written feedback; 
  • the timeliness of feedback; 
  • the explicitness of goals, criteria and standards; and 
  • the extent of alignment of assessment with learning outcomes.

Universities using the ‘Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment’ (TESTA) method have collected in-depth data about programme assessment environments since 2009 on degree programmes in more than 50 universities, mainly in the UK, but also in Australia and India. Drawn on TESTA evidence, assessment workload comprises the percentage of marks derived from examinations; the variety of assessment methods; the volume of summative assessment and the volume of formative assessment in the eyes of students. The volume and timeliness of feedback create conditions under which assessments develop student learning. These aspects are inter-related and planning pedagogical improvements in one aspect at programme level would lead to a transformation of the assessment environment as a whole.

Practice-oriented approaches to enhancing programme level assessment environment 

This section of the toolkit focuses on identifying and gathering “good enough” evidence to inform changes in assessment practices that are likely to make a positive impact on the programme-level assessment environment for student learning. Some positive impacts are

  • Ensuring a balanced assessment regime and avoiding assessing one set of skills or knowledge several times and overlooking other skillsets and knowledge 
  • Countering assessment overload (cramming too many/multiple assessment points at one individual course) 
  • Avoiding assessment logjams in assessment deadlines and lack use of formative feedback

Each of these different approaches outlines a mechanism for improvement in the assessment environment at programme level.

Approach 1: Curriculum-assessment mapping

What is it?

Curriculum-assessment mapping at programme level involves looking at the mixture of courses that students are likely to encounter and attempting to ensure that over the entire programme they have been assessed in a number of ways in line with the range of programme learning outcomes (LOs). It is important to ensure that programme learning outcomes adequately capture the learning that is intended to take place across the programme and that these LOs are aligned to the assessment regime.  

How effective is the approach?

Mapping curriculum*, including assessments, first originated in the 1970s and has become widely used to identify gaps, redundancies, or inconsistencies in content, learning opportunities, or student assessments. This approach for assessment enhancement is effective for

  • Establishing a clear team-level understanding of learning and assessment across the entire programme as well as its components. 
  • Fostering and enhancing interdisciplinary learning and assessment environments. 
  • Sequencing assessment activities across a programme to ensure a clear sense of progression in the levels of learning.  
  • Ensuring a degree of parity in the volume of assessments across full and half unit courses. 
  • Organising the timing of the assessments to reduce bunching of student effort  

*English, F. W. (1980). Curriculum Mapping. Educational Leadership, 37(7), 558–559.

How does it promote inclusivity?

There is evidence to suggest that curriculum-assessment mapping can help programme teams to identify unintentional biases in the choices of assessments and associated weighting. The mapping also leads to the better alignment of the programme’s assessment regime with its programme ILOs. Ideally, all programme ILOs should have an equitable probability of being assessed. Otherwise, students have to split their motivation between assessed learning and unassessed learning. Misalignment creates ‘hidden curriculum’ that disadvantages students who are new to the British/LSE assessment environment and reinforces students thinking that they can perform well in assessment without meeting all the learning objectives. In theory, diversification of assessment has the virtue of being more inclusive, potentially enabling students with learning differences to thrive. Yet, in a module-by-module system, Jessop and Tomas found that summative assessments are randomly sequenced through modular degrees, they tend to confuse students, preventing them from internalising goals and standards. Curriculum-assessment mapping would ensure inclusivity around assessment from a holistic and strategic level.

How long does it take?

Curriculum mapping is a holistic, longitudinal approach to degree planning and may take some time and involve several iterations. Here is an adapted version to support assessment enhancement. Ideally, the entire programme team as well as current students should participate or contribute to this process as it will open up opportunities for dialogue and exchange about the purpose of the programme; the student experience, and approaches to teaching, learning and assessment.  
If this is not possible the mapping exercise can be undertaken by the programme convenor, the convenor of core courses and the programme manager and others can feed into the process in different ways. In the case of joint programmes, members from all departments should be represented. 

How could you implement it?

Curriculum mapping can be carried out in different ways. To enhance assessment, we integrate this approach with the nine aspects of programme-level assessment environment. Each stage of the mapping activity can be related to specific aspects of assessment. A possible model would be to carry out the following stages (download pdf).

Approach 2: Self-Inventory of assessment practices

What is it?

Self-inventory is an online interactive form created for programme directors and programme team members to review their programme’s assessment environment. Different from curriculum-assessment mapping, this tool focuses on reviewing whether the programme’s assessment artefacts and assessment regime are fit for purpose.  

How effective is the approach?

Self-inventory was identified as an important mechanism to enable reflection on and enhancement of assessment practice. It is effective, in terms of its scalability, replicability and low-cost of time. Literature shows that self-inventory is recognised as a valuable precursor to formative, voluntary and confidential team discussion.

Specifically, this tool is designed to

  • respond to the rapid pace of curriculum development due to evolving (inter) disciplinary strength 
  • snapshot a variety of programme team members’ views 
  • self-check customisation and implementation of assessment documentation (e.g. marking rubrics, assessment brief) to inform short-term planning 
  • afford asynchronous communication between programme team members.  

How does it promote inclusivity?

A module-by-module approach to programme-level assessment induces considerable disaggregation to reveal patterns of strength and weakness across different kinds of students and different dimensions of ability. This self-inventory method allows programme teams to reveal how the assessment documentations (e.g. assessment brief, criteria, rubrics, use of technology) support or hinder their communication of academic standards with students. Transparent assessment documentations improve perceptions of fairness and consistency of marking.  It enables programme teams to construct standards in communities that engage both staff and students in dialogue about standards. 

On the other hand, standardisation of assessment that is facilitated by assessment criteria and marking rubrics is not unproblematic. It could potentially cause over-specification and associated reductionist approaches in higher education. This self-inventory method also allows a programme team to see connections and avoid over-specification, that will reinforce a rich learning experience for all students.  

How long does it take?

The interactive form of 12 questions is implemented using a Qualtrics survey. It will take up to 20 minutes to complete depending on your familiarity with the whole programme. A summary .pdf of your responses and feedback is available to download at the end. It offers a good starting point to share within the programme team for peer discussion and to inform decision-making. Discuss with your Eden Centre departmental advisers.  

It can be taken on Qualtrics via this link.

How could you implement it?

This self-inventory can be done alone or as a group together. These questions are directly linked to the Principles of Assessment at LSE.  

Download self-inventory document here


Further advice and support

Each academic department at the LSE has its own dedicated Eden Centre departmental advisers, who have a wide range of expertise and are available to work with colleagues on any teaching or learning related matter.

Also, the LSE Planning Division creates and maintains a range of data visualisations on Tableau Server to support decision making. You can find further information on these dashboards on the Planning Division website. You’ll need a Tableau account to access the dashboards, which you can get by contacting DTS. If you have any questions about using the dashboards, or finding the data that you need, please contact Ellen Austin ( in the Planning Division. 

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