Assessing Student Learning: A Comparison of Existing Methods for Evaluating the Learning Gain of Students
Evaluating the learning gain of students is a key metric for the Teaching Excellence Framework, for which there are different existing approaches (McGrath et al 2015).
Student expectations of their own personal learning are driven by the on-going marketisation of Higher Education. The mission for learning excellence is to determine the scope of the environmental drivers required to achieve a local response at student level. How progress towards this goal is monitored is therefore likely to become an important future indicator of institutional performance.
Measuring learning gain based upon grades is an objective method, however with most students obtaining a university undergraduate degree at levels 2:1 or 2:2, differentiation is limited. Examples of this approach include the Grade Point Average method and the Predicted Pass approach.
Students can undertake standardised tests at controlled points throughout their university education. Such tests can be generic (using psychometric measures) or discipline based (making them subject specific). In both cases, these tests are even more objective and have greater validity when compared to other measures. Discipline based tests themselves are more accurate when compared to generalised tests. However, it remains difficult to compare disciplines together when the tests undertaken are bespoke.
Students can self-report their own learning using a portfolio or survey approach and these are subjective methods. In other cases, evaluation of learning and development is achieved using UK-wide surveys such as the National Student Survey (NSS) which only includes a few relevant questions.
Surveys are vulnerable to mis-representation, and so an alternative approach is to undertake a skills audit, but again the information derived is subjective and open to influence.
This research reports on a comparative study that considers the advantages and disadvantages of each of these key approaches for the assessment of student learning.
McGrath, C.H., Guerin, B., Harte, E., Frearson, M. & Manville, C., 2015. HEFCE report - Learning gain in Higher Education. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.