The School of English report on TESTA Audit

November 27, 2013, by Teaching at Nottingham

The School of English report on TESTA Audit

Jo Robinson and Nathan Waddell: “As part of our ongoing commitment to improving feedback and assessment practices, the School of English bid for funding from the 2012/13 Teaching Development Fund in order to carry out an audit of its assessment structures with a view to reshaping our practice. The audit was undertaken using the TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment) methodology, which was developed as a £200,000 National Fellowship project on programme assessment funded by the Higher Education Academy and led by the University of Winchester (2009-12). TESTA concentrated on the Q300 English BA programme, using three core methods to gauge assessment patterns: programme audit (evidence from documents and the degree team); assessment experience questionnaire (based on established assessment principles); and focus groups with students.

“A report delivered in June 2013 indicated a number of areas for review within the School of English’s assessment structures for Q300: the balance of formative versus summative assessment, and the number of summative assessments, on the programme; increased use of student peer review to ensure familiarity with and transparency of marking criteria; and the role and relationship of release dates of feedback and marks. 52% of students on the programme completed an Assessment Experience Questionnaire which highlighted a number of concerns: assessment patterns are not helping students to distribute their efforts evenly across modules, and that students are at times not clear about goals and standards; that students perceive current feedback methods as insufficient or insufficiently useful, and that students are not convinced that exams help them to learn; and that students can be selective about topics of study (which may, of course, be apt for English degrees).

“Many of these findings echoed our own identification of issues with assessment and feedback (and are likely to resonate in other Schools across the University too). The School of English acknowledges TESTA’s claim that there is a golden thread between quantity and quality of feedback, clear goals and standards, and overall student satisfaction. In response to the TESTA audit, a series of meetings (involving all School staff) are being held within the School to review and, where appropriate, revise current assessment practices: a key finding of the overall TESTA programme is that change has to be agreed and led on a whole School basis if it is to succeed. Subject to on-going School discussion, English aims to improve its pedagogy and assessment protocols so as to help students: understand and internalise Faculty mark schemes; receive more dialogue with tutors through increased contact hours; and manage the transition from A-Level to University more effectively.

“These efforts will play a key role in the School’s continuing labours to maintain and enhance its performance in the National Student Survey (NSS). As part of the TDF funding, the project leaders Dr Jo Robinson and Wenonah Barton will be organising an afternoon workshop for interested colleagues from other Schools later this year.

Sample recommendations of the TESTA Audit:

  • get students producing more for seminars (e.g. journals, blogs, presentations);
  • use peer review to encourage consistent engagement, develop feedback practices, and improve students’ evaluative skills;
  • build in opportunities, potentially in seminars, for students to give feedback to each other on short writing pieces, with discussion about standards;
  • consider linking a formative task which prompts feedback and which feeds forward into a related summative task, particularly early on in the degree;
  • get students to mark a range of mock essays using criteria in first year, and discuss standards and criteria as part of the marking exercise
  • conduct marking workshops with teachers where they articulate criteria, mark real papers together, and discuss standards to develop a common set of practices and standards.

Jo Robinson and Nathan Waddell
School of English Report on TESTA Audit (2012/13)

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