Student Self-Assessment

Roger Moore
St. Thomas University

An early version of this paper, under the title “Self-Assessment as a Counter Measure to Grade Inflation” was presented to the Atlantic Association of Universities, at the 5th Teaching Showcase, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. 27-28 October 2000.  It has been published, in slightly modified versions, on two occasions: “Student Self-Assessment.” Teaching Voices: UNB Bulletin on University Teaching. September 2001. 4-8. And “Student Self-Assessment.” Proceedings: 5th Atlantic Universities’ Teaching Showcase, 2000 held at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent UP, 2001. 167-75.

   My attempts to encourage students to assess themselves must be seen in the light of the work I have been doing over the last five years to empower(1) students within the classroom. This work began with enabling students to take some control over the texts they read in class (2)and continued with the regular surveying of student opinion while courses were in progress (3). As a result of the surveys and SGIDS (Student Generated Instructional Development Sessions), I acquired a great interest in developing student creativity within the classroom by using more interactive creative work than ever before (4). This in turn developed into the regular use of SGIDS (5), by means of which students could not only generate input on class structure during the monthly SGIDS, but could also see the effects of that input on a class structure, which changed visibly according to their suggestions. That this method of teaching was effective and that student input into classes was seen in a positive light, is demonstrated by student participation in the 4th AAU Teaching Showcase at Fredericton and the inclusion of a student paper in the Proceedings of that conference (6).

     Once students have been encouraged to select their texts, to assess their progress and course structure, and to give input into the direction the course will follow, the next step logically is for them to self-evaluate their own progress in the course. This has been going on in my courses now in different ways for the several years.

      The self-evaluation form is slightly different for each course, but the principles involved are always the same. In the first place, 100% of the student's grade has been calculated by means of standardized, objective testing. The self-evaluation form, however, allows a discretionary 10%(7) by means of which the student can agree or disagree with the course mark awarded. If the student makes a strong case for a higher (or as has happened on several occasions, a lower grade), then I will consider the student's arguments and hold a meeting in my office to discuss the proposal for a changed grade in the light of the evidence presented. Whereas some students merely fill in the self-evaluation form, several have compiled impressive course dossiers in which they have outlined the skills developed during the course, the quantity of sometimes invisible work undertaken, and the grounds for requesting a change in grade. Either way, the self-evaluation plays a valuable role as an instrument for reflection on the course and students are often surprised when they list the skills they have acquired and the ways in which they have changed as a result of the teaching method.

     As for the self-evaluations, I usually begin with an outline of the paradigm within which the self-evaluation process will take place; first, the calendar definitions of A and B grades:

Calendar definition of an A grade: Demonstrating an exceptional knowledge of subject matter, the literature, and concepts and/or techniques. In addition, it may include: outstanding powers of analysis, criticism, articulation, and demonstrated originality. A performance qualitatively better than that expected of a student who does the assignment or course well (STU Calendar, p. 213).

Calendar definition of a B grade: Demonstrating considerable knowledge of subject matter, concepts, techniques, as well as considerable ability to analyze, criticize, and articulate; performance in an assignment or course which can be called "well done." (STU Calendar, p. 213).

     Within these definitions, the students are invited to self-evaluate themselves in selected areas. The first is in class work. Students are requested to rate their progress, as they perceive it, on a scale from 6 to 1, with 1 being the highest mark they can award themselves. Note that there are is an even set of numbers on the scale so that a student must choose and cannot pick the comfort zone of, for example, 3 out of 5. Here are the assessment areas for Mexico Online (third year) and Introduction to Translation (second year).

1. Class activities and participation: Mexico Online

Listening 6 5 4 3 2 1
Speaking 6 5 4 3 2 1
Understanding 6 5 4 3 2 1
Questioning 6 5 4 3 2 1
Thinking 6 5 4 3 2 1

An additional category was added for the Introduction to Translation course:

Group work 6 5 4 3 2 1

.2. Out of class preparation: Mexico Online

Accessing the WWW 6 5 4 3 2 1
Careful preparation 6 5 4 3 2 1
Intelligent thought 6 5 4 3 2 1
Innovation 6 5 4 3 2 1
Creativity 6 5 4 3 2 1

Again, extra course specific categories were added for the Translation course.

I always prepared everything in advance 6 5 4 3 2 1
Translations were always completed in advance 6 5 4 3 2 1
Grammar was always studied in advance 6 5 4 3 2 1
Verbs and tenses were memorized before class 6 5 4 3 2 1
Sentences were always prepared in advance 6 5 4 3 2 1

3. Overall success and improvement: Mexico Online

Speaking Spanish 6 5 4 3 2 1
Net and web skills 6 5 4 3 2 1
Reading Spanish 6 5 4 3 2 1
Understanding spoken Spanish 6 5 4 3 2 1

A slightly different set of determinants were used in the second year Translation course.

I always tried to speak Spanish in class 6 5 4 3 2 1
I used Spanish outside the class when possible 6 5 4 3 2 1
I read Spanish on the WWW 6 5 4 3 2 1
I went to the monitors for help 6 5 4 3 2 1

4. The course itself: Mexico Online

World Trade Organization 6 5 4 3 2 1
Indigenous Peoples 6 5 4 3 2 1
Marriage / divorce 6 5 4 3 2 1
Genetic enhancement / food 6 5 4 3 2 1
Pinochet 6 5 4 3 2 1
USA Friend or foe? 6 5 4 3 2 1
Education 6 5 4 3 2 1

     Since these topics were course specific to Mexico Online, it was necessary to change the categories completely for the Introduction to Translation course at the second year level. Here the students were requested to concentrate on the natural structures of grammar.

     The course divided -- how did you do on each of the following (your own estimate):

Translations Span / Eng 6 5 4 3 2 1
Sentences Eng / Span 6 5 4 3 2 1
Spanish Grammar 6 5 4 3 2 1
English Grammar 6 5 4 3 2 1
English vocabulary 6 5 4 3 2 1


     Next, I asked the students to assess their own level of active participation in the course.

5. Your overall rating of yourself: Mexico Online

I was a key member of the course 6 5 4 3 2 1
I participated regularly 6 5 4 3 2 1
I participated intelligently 6 5 4 3 2 1
I worked hard all the time 6 5 4 3 2 1
I challenged myself to improve 6 5 4 3 2 1
I got involved in discussions 6 5 4 3 2 1
I grew as an individual 6 5 4 3 2 1
I learnt to think and to do 6 5 4 3 2 1
I continued these debates after class
6 5 4 3 2 1

     The participation questions were very different for the Translation course which involved a different work structure and an entirely different work ethic. Perhaps the most important and interesting item in the Translation course self-evaluation was the fact that most students saw the improvement in their knowledge of their own language and realized that it came as a direct result of constant work between both languages.

I participated regularly 6 5 4 3 2 1
I participated intelligently 6 5 4 3 2 1
I worked hard all the time 6 5 4 3 2 1
I challenged myself to improve 6 5 4 3 2 1
I got involved 6 5 4 3 2 1
I grew as an individual 6 5 4 3 2 1
I learnt to think and to do 6 5 4 3 2 1
My English improved 6 5 4 3 2 1

     At this stage, the students were ready to self-evaluate themselves. But first, I asked them to establish their own current grade and then to evaluate their own performance in the light of the self-evaluation forms which they had just filled in. Here is the marking scheme for the Mexico Online course:

6.1 The accumulated average from my five modules is:

  1 2 3 4 5

My current total is _________%

My current standing according to this percentage is (Circle one):

    A+ / 98       A/95       A-/90       B+/85       B/80       B-/75       C+/70       C/65       C-/60     D/50     F (below 50)

The grade I would actually give myself on this course is (Circle one):

     F         D          C-          C          C+       B-         B         B+         A-         A         A+

Here is the marking scheme for the Translation course:

6.2 The accumulated average of 4 translations (at 10% each) is:

     1         2           3            4                Total __________/40

The accumulated average of my 2 Tests (at 20% each) is:

     1         2                                           Total __________/40

My total out of 80 is __________/80 which equals ____________%

Before the final examination and based on this percentage my current standing is (Circle one):

    A+ / 98      A/95      A-/90      B+/85      B/80      B-/75      C+/70      C/65      C-/60      D/50      F (below 50)

The grade I would actually give myself on this course is (Circle one):

F         D           C-         C          C+        B-        B         B+         A-         A         A+

     I was told consistently by the students that the next three instalments of the self-evaluation process were the most difficult to handle.

7. If the grade you have given yourself differs from your objective grade, tell me why (in approximately 100 words), you would award yourself a new grade.

8. Bearing in mind the description of the A grade given in the calendar and set out at the start of this self-evaluation exercise, who is the one person with whom you have worked this year to whom you would give an A grade?

9. Describe in about 100 words why you think this person worth an A grade?

     The results of the self-evaluations were very pleasing. In the first place, students began to understand the nature of marking and saw it not merely as an arbitrary awarding of grades, but as a difficult process in which both objective and subjective judgement is involved. As a result of this process, the constant clamor for an A grade was quieted and students saw the A grade for what it should be according to the description given above: a comparatively rare grade given only to outstanding students. At my university, the classes in the second and third year of languages are relatively small, 35 students in the Translation course and 16 students in Mexico Online. This meant I was able to be in contact with each student, knew each student well, and was able to see that their judgement of themselves was sometimes harsher than my judgement of them. My fear that they would "take advantage" of this system and all give themselves an A grade, or higher, was completely unfounded. As a bonus for me, the facilitator, I was allowed to discover the behind-the-scenes workings of the course and the secret communications system that students use among themselves to value and judge their peers. When the final results came in, it was remarkable how often the students had given their A grades to the one or two most deserving students in the room!


     1. I use the terms empower / empowerment with some trepidation as they clearly belong to another context, that of the feminist liberation movement. However, I use them with great respect and believe strongly that they are useful to describe the movement in Canadian education towards the creation of a route towards life long learning along which students can control their own learning environments to a greater degree.   top

     2. The methods used for text selection (and I use the word text in its broadest sense) are outlined in my article "Translation and the Web: Collaborative Class Design in the Teaching of Spanish as a Foreign Language." Expo-Enseignement / Teaching Showcase. Revue de L'Université de Ste. Anne. 1997: 69-79.  top

     3. The studies I have done here were outlined in an unpublished paper entitled "THE SURVEY SAYS: Regular Surveys of Student Opinion as a Working Guide to Ongoing Teaching and Learning Effectiveness." 2nd. Annual UPEI Teaching Symposium. UPEI, August 28, 1998. In brief, I have attempted recently to remain aware of student opinion by using regular surveys and to take student ideas of what is, or isn't, relevant into account while the courses are in progress.   top

     4. I outline one aspect of this work in interactive creativity in "An Interactive Approach to the Teaching of Creativity." Proceedings: Atlantic Universities' Teaching Showcase, 1998. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent University, 1999. 121-26. Many of the elements of this interactive style of teaching were developed in the Centro de Idiomas, Universidad Autónoma "Benito Juárez" de Oaxaca, Mexico, during the period 1995-1998 and in the workshops of the Atlantic Association of Universities Teaching Showcases.   top

     5. The way in which monthly SGIDS led to the creation of a language learning community is outlined in "Mexico Online: The Creation of a Language Learning Community." Proceedings / Actes: 4th Atlantic Universities' Teaching Showcase at St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent University Press. 2000: 101-07.   top

     6. Lafargue, Chantal and Loretta Macpherson, "Student Generated Instructional Development Sessions: A Proposal for a New Model." Proceedings / Actes: 4th Atlantic Universities' Teaching Showcase at St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick. Halifax: Mount Saint Vincent University Press. 2000: 81-84.   top

     7. This figure can vary from course to course, for example, from Mexico Online 1 to Mexico Online 2 and it usually ranges within a variation of 10-20%. I have standardized it for the purpose of this publication.    top

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