Maintaining standards in assessment

AUTC is the Australia Universities Teaching Committee. In 2002 they issued several papers aimed at assisting universities to maintain standards in assessment and to respond to new issues.

Paper One – A new era in assessing student learning
Two new issues they canvas are plagiarism, and technological possibilities in assessment. Plagiarism is seen as a developing threat (especially from online sources) and one which can damage confidence in assessment and in academic standards. The paper advocates effective education campaigns and use of detection methods. Ten years later the plagiarism issue which used to largely centre around copying material from the net, today includes the advent of paid online tutors (or paper mills). This presents a new challenge to assessors.

When talking about emergent technological possibilities AUTC point to the need to ensure that the range of higher-order-skills is considered. Today technological methods are used in some contexts and have even been used to machine mark essays. This seems to be a case of using the technology to a point way beyond one that is capable of claiming much validity at all.

A third issue is raised particularly in the context of overseas students in Australia, but it is also applicable in some overseas contexts. Some students have ‘little prior exposure to the unwritten rules and conventions of higher education.’ This is being addressed to some extent by the advent of writing courses in some universities to help students to understand the basic premises of referencing, academic writing and avoidance of plagiarism.

Paper six – Quality and Standards
While Australian universities generally have clear statements of learning outcomes (standards), levels of achievement are less well defined. Grading is frequently norm referenced.

The paper implies that there is a problem with norm-referencing, and I have to agree. Students should be subject to the same standards at different times. If a student’s work merits a C in a current marking session, then it should merit a C in other marking sessions too. However, with norm-referencing, if there is a weak cohort, the C-paper may be elevated to an A.

‘A degree of subjectivity is inevitable. But this subjectivity must be informed by experienced, professional judgment’ (2002).  Everything seems to keep coming back to this idea of professional judgment, and the big question is – what is professional judgment? Why is it that one assessor can mark an essay at an A-level while another can mark it at a B or a C? This happens even amongst experienced assessors. So we have large degrees of subjectivity and poor levels of reliability.


Australian Universities Teaching Committee. (2002) A new era in assessing student learning. Retrieved from

Australian Universities Teaching Committee. (2002) Quality and standards. Retrieved from


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