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Is Satisfactory Really Satisfactory? A Look at Assessment Rubrics

Posted 1st August 2016 Coleen Rivas

Like most people in the VET sector, I’ve completed a few qualifications over the years. Most of them were interesting enough, but in truth, like most students, I did the work because it was important for my career. There was one simple Diploma in Business Administration, however, that I do remember very well. I completed that qualification over 14 years ago and I still remember the assessment projects I submitted for that course. It’s not that they were amazing assessment tools (they were as good as any). The reason I remember these assessments, and the detail of my submissions, is because I could achieve a graded result. I knew that a pass would get me the competent result I needed, but I wanted to see the word “Distinction” on my work. I worked my butt off during that course, and it was always a thrill to have an assessment mark returned that rewarded me for my effort.

The issues with standard assessment

As assessors we’re used to seeing average submissions that demonstrate competency, but not excellence. That can leave us too close to the ‘pass’ line when it comes to demonstrating the Rules of Evidence. If most students are just working to receive a ‘satisfactory’ result, then that’s exactly what we get. Nothing special, nothing great. It can also lead to unmotivated students who may not be getting the ‘thrill’ they need to keep going on with their studies. Graded results provide two major benefits:

Transparency and motivation for students

It was while working with my high-school age kids on their school work that I first considered the benefit of a rubric as a VET assessor. Like many parents, I often review or proofread their assessment tasks. Every assessment they bring home comes with a rubric – a set of criteria for the scoring of assessment tasks, describing the level of work or elements required to achieve a certain score or grade. The kids now know how to review the rubric, and they check their own work to see if they’re meeting those standards. These rubrics have completely changed their attitudes towards assessment: in fact, my kids have gone from C grade to A grade averages.

Clarity and consistency for assessors

We all know the importance of validating assessment results. Results that are given to students must be consistent and transparent without room for bias or opinion. The Principles of Assessment require that our assessment tools are reliable – meaning that all learners’ work is consistently interpreted and comparable, regardless of the individual assessors who conduct the assessment. One of the advantages of using a rubric is that the assessment interpretations are clearly spelt out for both the learner and assessor. There’s no room for alternative interpretations or differences in assessment opinions. A well-written rubric deals with these risks head on, and ensures reliability in assessment – every time.

Tailoring graded assessments for RTO courses

One of the big questions I initially asked myself was, ‘How does a graded rubric fit within a Competency Based Training model?’. To be honest, I was even a little concerned that this method may not be compliant. I had no need to worry at all. There is absolutely no compliance issue in grading your students’ work – you just need to do so within the rules of CBT and remember the Rules of Evidence always apply. What does this mean?

1. Competency

Firstly, you need to be very clear on what competency is, and never confuse a graded mark with a competent result. Competency is achieved when the learner has demonstrated all of the skills and knowledge described in the unit of competency and associated assessment requirements.

Competency always comes first, any grading that is conducted is secondary to the assessment of competence. For example, in a graded system, a student completing a knowledge assessment may be able to achieve a score of 10 points for a total of 10 questions. In this case, the maximum score for a submission would be 100 points. What if a student achieved a 10/10 score for 9 of the questions, but only 3/10 (an unsatisfactory result) for one of the questions? The overall mark would be 93% – but this would be an unsatisfactory result, because the student did not demonstrate competency across all of the knowledge requirements. Alternatively, a student may score a lower (yet satisfactory) result for all questions achieving a 70% result – and yes, this student would be competent. One of the key rules in using a rubric system is to explain this carefully to students. The grading is not a determination of their competency, it is simply a tool that recognises and rewards the ‘above and beyond satisfactory’ that students often achieve.

The other wonderful benefit of a rubric system, is the quality and consistency of feedback that is provided to students. In the scenario above, the student that was ‘not competent’ receives positive feedback on the 9 quality responses, and has clear benchmarks to identify how to improve the ‘unsatisfactory’ answer. The student is likely to feel much more motivated to resubmit the one remaining question at an equally high level as the other 9 responses.

2. Validation

Validation of your assessment practices just got a whole lot easier too. The benchmarks for a competent result are clearly identified in the rubric, but the ‘above and beyond’ competent achievements get recognised as well. There is little room for opinion, bias or inconsistency, because the rubric ensures reliable and well-defined assessment.

Rubric assessment for your organisation

Whether you provide an additional document that lists graded results is a decision for each RTO. You must provide the official Testamurs, Record of Results or Statement or Attainment, but there is no compliance issue if you include an additional document that lists grades. Remember, you need to make it clear that any additional document is not the official Record of Results.

At Learning Vault, we’ve developed a detailed rubric system for all of our knowledge and project assessments. Our platform allows for online assessment, with the rubric benchmarks beside each assessment question or submission. This makes assessment easier, faster and more consistent, saving your RTO time, and potentially money.

We’d love to show you how our rubric marking system works. With better quality submissions, more motivated students, easier assessment, better quality feedback to students, more consistent and reliable assessment results plus easier validation, it really is worth a look.

Written by Coleen Rivas // Managing Director

collen-imgColeen has worked in management roles within the training and employment sector since 1992 and within the VET sector including TAFE since 2001. What Coleen doesn’t know about training and education isn’t worth knowing! Recently, she sold her own highly successful RTO in which she had been hands-on in every aspect of the business including training packages, validation and professional development. This organisation held multiple Government contracts and delivered training Nationally. As a result, she brings a phenomenal amount of expertise and experience to Learning Vault to ensure we deliver world-class business and management content