Comparative Assessment In The Classroom

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Comparative Assessment


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What is comparative assessment and how can teachers use it in their classroom?

Psychologist, Louis Thurstone, published a paper on the law of comparative judgment in 1927! Thurstone’s method of comparative judgement exploits the power of adaptivity; in scoring rather than testing.

There has been a recent and welcome revival of comparative assessment, but it has been around for a long time and one could argue that we are 90 years too late. With an influx of edtech and the constant challenge for schools to buy in affordable software, solutions are becoming readily available for schools and teachers to help reduce workload and improve assessment.

But, what if you cannot afford the software? How can teachers still use these techniques in their classroom?

What does the research say?

The judge [or teacher] is asked only to make a valid decision about quality and therefore “offers a radical alternative to the pursuit of reliability through detailed marking schemes”.

I have written a detailed post explaining the history, research findings and where the technology has helped to shape comparative assessment. Standout solutions include This is Century founded by Priya Lakhani and No More Marking by Daisy Christodoulou and others. Both offer solutions for reducing the workload burden on teachers, and strategies for improving assessment reliability.

What does it look like in the classroom?

  1. If you are teaching the same scheme of work as another teacher next door to you, anonymise and swap over the students’ work and allow the students to discuss each piece of work and rank them in order of success. For most teachers, this is day-to-day peer assessment, but to do this well on a mass scale with all your pupils in the class requires a good degree of subject and assessment knowledge, as well as strong behaviour management.
  2. If you do not have another colleague who you can share work with, use another class you teach or a project from the previous academic year. Allow the students to immerse themselves in the work and the assessment criteria of the time …
  3. To reduce teacher workload, this research suggests that you and your pupils will be able to reliably predict approximately the correct order of work from top to bottom. Where any discrepancies remain, this is where the more detailed assessment can take place. Try it for yourself: Can you rank students work in a matter of seconds?
  4. Then, choose one piece of work at various ends of the scale, and assess the work as a teacher or with a group of students.
  5. Evaluate how accurate your assessments are, then head over to this test on No More Marking for something to consider …

In a nutshell, make a quick decision about the quality.

You can also read more about the research I was involved in with Goldsmiths College, 2005. In the pilot, each e-portfolio was judged at least 17 times by seven different judges, which makes for a highly reliable set of results. This research has since developed into many assessment methdologies for examination bodies …

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