“The quickest way to change student learning is to change the assessment system” (Elton & Laurillard, 1979, p.100)
Improving academic progress in higher education is an important goal for educational stakeholders, since academic progress rates in Europe are disappointing (Vossensteyn et al., 2015). Several studies have shown that assessment drives learning (Al-Kadri, Al-Moamary, Roberts, & Van der Vleuten, 2012; Heeneman, Oudkerk Pool, Schuwirth, van der Vleuten, & Driessen, 2015). However, less is known about how assessment drives academic progress. For instance, what happens to students’ academic progress when the stakes are raised, or when compensation between grades is allowed? The fact that the assessment systems of a large university in the Netherlands recently changed, offers an opportunity to examine whether changes in assessment systems are related to changes in academic progress.
In this study, we define an assessment system as the way in which multiple assessments within a course programme are combined in order to decide whether students are allowed to continue their course programme, or are forced to drop out (i.e. academic dismissal). We differentiate the assessment systems on the basis of three factors: i) the height of the stakes (Cole & Osterlind, 2008), i.e. the number of credits that is required for students to continue their course programme, ii) the degree of compensation among grades for separate examinations (Chester, 2003), and iii) the number of resits students are allowed to take (Proud, 2015).
In case of changes in academic progress following alterations in factors of the assessment system, it is important to know whether this merely happened because the assessment system has become easier (i.e. altered selection), or because students are actually doing a better job (i.e. altered student performance). Therefore, in addition to academic progress, we will take Grade Point Average (GPA) into account. Combining academic progress with GPA will inform us about the relative contribution of altered selection and altered student performance. For instance, when significantly more students show increased academic progress under a new assessment system, but the overall GPA remains the same, this is a clear indication that only the selection has changed (i.e. it has gotten easier to pass), and not the student performance (i.e. students do not perform better). When both progress and GPA show the same trend, it is an indication that the changes are mainly due to different student performance. In addition to comparing GPA with academic progress, we will also simulate how many students would have progressed, if they had studied under a different assessment system. In this case, the assessment system that affects students’ performance, for instance through their motivation, is different from the assessment system that makes the simulated selection. This should clarify the relative contribution of altered selection and altered student performance to possible differences in academic progress as well.
In this study, we will compare academic progress and performance of students in the same university, before and after changes in the assessment systems were made. In general, the old assessment systems were conjunctive, thus students needed to pass each individual assessment with a satisfactory grade. In the new assessment systems, the stakes were raised by requiring a higher number of credits for students to continue their course programme, and compensation between grades was introduced. The first research question is: Does academic progress change under higher-stakes compensatory assessment systems compared to lower-stakes conjunctive assessment systems? The second research question is: To what extent are possible differences in academic progress attributable to changes in selection or changes in student performance under the renewed assessment system?
Al-Kadri, H. M., Al-Moamary, M. S., Roberts, C., & Van der Vleuten, C. P. M. (2012). Exploring assessment factors contributing to students’ study strategies: literature review. Medical Teacher, 34 Suppl 1, S42-50. https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2012.656756 Chester, M. D. (2003). Multiple Measures and High-Stakes Decisions: A Framework for Combining Measures. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 22, 32–41. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-3992.2003.tb00126.x Cole, J. S., & Osterlind, S. J. (2008). Investigating differences between low-and high-stakes test performance on a general education exam. The Journal of General Education, 57, 119–130. Elton, L. R. B., & Laurillard, D. M. (1979). Trends in research on student learning. Studies in Higher Education, 4, 87–102. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075077912331377131 Heeneman, S., Oudkerk Pool, A., Schuwirth, L. W. T., van der Vleuten, C. P. M., & Driessen, E. W. (2015). The impact of programmatic assessment on student learning: theory versus practice. Medical Education, 49, 487–498. https://doi.org/10.1111/medu.12645 Proud, S. (2015). Resits in Higher Education: Merely a Bar to Jump Over, or Do They Give a Pedagogical “Leg Up”? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 40, 681–697. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2014.947241 Vossensteyn, H., Kottmann, A., Jongbloed, B., Kaiser, F., Cremonini, L., Stensaker, B., … Wollscheid, S. (2015). Dropout and completion in higher education in Europe: main report. Retrieved from http://doc.utwente.nl/98513/ Wolf, L. F., & Smith, J. K. (1995). The Consequence of Consequence: Motivation, Anxiety, and Test Performance. Applied Measurement in Education, 8, 227–242. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15324818ame0803_3
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