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Methods for Evaluating the Appropriateness and Effectiveness of Summative Assessment via Mu

We describe an overall approach to setting objectives which is based on Bloom’s taxonomy, then concentrate on the assessment of students at the Knowledge and Comprehension levels of that taxonomy, for which students may receive the minimum passing grade.

Making a Difference: 2005 Evaluations and Assessment Conference. 30 November-1 December, Sydney.

Methods for Evaluating the Appropriateness and

Effectiveness of Summative Assessment via Multiple-choice

Examinations for Technology-Focused Disciplines

Raymond Lister

University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

We describe an overall approach to setting objectives which is based on Bloom’s taxonomy, then concentrate on the assessment of students at the Knowledge and Comprehension levels of that

taxonomy, for which students may receive the minimum passing grade. Multiple-choice questions are a suitable way of assessing that level of competence. We analyze student performance on such an exam, using well established analysis techniques from the literature on multiple choice questions. The examination was found to have largely met its objectives, but some problems are noted.

Introduction

… the lecturer must guide this collection of individuals through territory

the students are unfamiliar with, towards a common meeting point, but

without knowing where they are starting from, how much baggage they are

carrying, and what kind of vehicle they are using. This is insanity.

(Laurillard 1993, p. 3)

When assessing their students, most academics tread a thin line between establishing that the students have met the official subject objectives, while ensuring that the resultant failure rate is politically acceptable. Academics who teach early in degree programs are particularly exposed to scrutiny, as their colleagues who teach “downstream” can be relied upon to make their displeasure known if students are subsequently found to be lacking fundamental skills: an engineer teaching downstream may complain about the mathematics skills of students, while a “downstream” lecturer in construction & design might complain about the students’ ability to draw a correct plan.

Within the discipline of information technology, the common complaint among

downstream teachers is focussed on the programming skills of students. The complaint is not simply that many students lack the more advanced skills, but that the weaker performing students even lack elementary skills. However, if the poor performing first year students are failed in first year, the failure rate can be unacceptably high. Across the world, it is well recognized that novice programmers struggle with elementary programming skills. Results from a recent project by McCraken et al. (2001) are compelling, because of the number of authors from differing educational institutions and cultures. Four of the authors, from three countries, tested their students on a common set of programming tasks. The students

performed much more poorly than the authors had expected. The students did not simply fail to complete the set task; most students did not even get close to solving the task.

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