Despite growing support for assessment diversification, the LSE’s assessment policies have not changed, as LSE faculty have been slow to adjust.
Pressures by students and some faculty members have successfully created a movement for assessment diversification embodied in the Programme Review that departments are currently undergoing. The results from LSE’s attempts to diversify are still to be seen.
In 2016, the Students’ Union discovered that more than 70% of students want the LSE to move away from heavily relying on end-of-year exams as a form of assessment. Key figures at the LSE believe that this assessment approach widens attainment gaps, has no clear pedagogical incentives, and incentivises disinterest throughout the year, leading to the unhealthy practice of ‘cramming’. In a highly competitive and demanding university, students feel their end-of-year exams are all or nothing.
Undergraduate courses still rely heavily on summative exams. A majority of these are held in the summer term. As of May 2017, 92.6% of undergraduate students have exams in at least 80% of their courses in their three years at the LSE.
A paper written 3 May 2017 by LSE’s Pro-Director for Education Paul Kelly establishes that the Academic Board “commits to a general principle of diversity in summative assessment”. Regardless of efforts by the university, students are yet to see how these changes are to become a reality.
Speaking to the Beaver about these issues, Paul Kelly stresses that the LSE’s over-reliance widens attainment gaps and places unnecessary pressure on students, adding that the LSE has higher levels of exam-related stress than other universities.
According to Professor Kelly, there is no clear sense in which LSE’s current model has a pedagogical rationale behind it. He links the dissatisfaction with assessment as one of the most (if not the most) important factors feeding LSE’s poor performance in the National Student Survey.
In an advisory paper, Head of the Teaching and Learning Centre Dr. Claire Gordon argues that diversification would improve students’ wellbeing and would be more inclusive, providing an “opportunity for all students irrespective of their backgrounds to excel.”
Another main driver for change is the complexity of arranging so a large amount of different exams in one term, since “adding additional exams to the Summer Term exam period risks the viability of the timetable in future academic years”.
The Beaver has learned that the infrastructure and support the school offers faculties already allows for assessment diversification. According to Professor Kelly, since the university is decentralised, individual faculties are allowed greater flexibility than they otherwise would. In addition, the Teaching and Learning Centre has made available an Assessment Toolkit to help faculty diversify the way they design assessments. This Assessment Toolkit – paired with the freedom that LSE’s structure provides – should in theory allow for change to happen now.
However, as Dr. Gordon explains, some faculty worry about “potential misconduct” and the “dumbing down of the curriculum”. Professor Kelly links the lack of change to the fact that LSE “disincentives innovation on teaching and learning at the faculty level”.
Direct change may yet be coming soon. The LSE is currently undergoing a programme review, with one of the main objectives being the diversification of assessment methods. According to LSE SU Education Officer Esohe Uwadiae, the Programme Review is “going well”– she has “seen the trend towards diversified assessments in several committees”. The changes that the Programme Review will bring about would be implemented in the next academic year.
The clear link between student dissatisfaction and LSE’s assessment policies – paired with the logistical problems of an increasingly crammed summer term – may be enough to push the LSE to diversify its assessment methods. The Assessment Toolkit and Programme Review are widely viewed as steps in the right direction, regardless of faculty engagement. Both the LSE SU and the faculty that The Beaver have spoken to support diversification. It is yet to be seen if current students will benefit from LSE’s willingness to incrementally diversify.