Student voice in the development of assessment practices

By Eve Bracken-Ingram

Student voice is an increasingly important idea within higher education. We define student voice as the concept of involving students in the decision-making processes that affect their education. Although there has been a great effort to encourage and listen to student voice, assessment is typically left out of the discussion. There are few examples of student voice in higher education assessment, with opportunities for voice limited to retrospective opinions. While this allows for some student voice to be acknowledged, the perspective of students currently in the course are very rarely considered. The lack of student voice in assessment contributes to the unequal power dynamic within classrooms and hinders equity. A 2020 study by Chase (Source) explores how student voice could be included within assessment practices in higher education.

Student voice in assessment is of particular interest in STEM fields. These disciples are typically very intense with assessment practices taking traditional exam format. Additionally, STEM classrooms often lack diversity and retention is low, particularly for minorities. As such, STEM courses would benefit from greater inclusion of diverse student voice within their higher education practices.

Deci and Ryan (2008) discuss the clear link between student motivation and student autonomy. In the context of assessment, student autonomy refers to students having the opportunity to take part in the development of assessment criteria and methods. It is understood that by increasing student autonomy, and as such motivation, the academic outcomes of assessment are enhanced.

Although the benefits of student involvement in assessment are clear, there is a common concern that students do not have adequate content knowledge to successful participate in their development. Chase overcomes this criticism by aiming to involve students within the classroom participation area of evaluation. Classroom participation is a key part of many STEM course's assessment methods. However, the grading criteria for participation can be seen as exclusionary as it rarely takes into account the diverse needs, preferences, and strengths of students. Therefore, the inclusion of student voice in the development of these criteria is essential to foster an equitable learning environment.

In order to investigate the inclusion of student voice within the development of higher education assessment methods in STEM, Chase carried out a study with a diverse group of undergraduate students. This study aimed to develop criteria which would be used to grade students' participation in class. Students were engaged in a discussion where they identified skills which are key to participation. Following the establishment of these key stills, students created a list of behaviours which would demonstrate the effective use of these skills. The final assessment criteria consisted of a collated list of behaviours which students believed represent participation. It was highlighted that students were not expected to display all these behaviours and the role of the list was to ensure a variety of individual strengths could be rewarded.

Students’ perception of autonomy and attitude towards assessment were monitored via surveys. Surveys were completed at multiple times throughout the study, and student response was distinctly positive. A common response emphasized that students felt respected and listened to. As such, students’ perceived autonomy within the classroom increased. Additionally, students felt that the experience deepened their learning by providing a context for and understanding of assessment and learning methods. A minority of students noted that the experience was difficult and uncomfortable. This comment acknowledges the effect of traditional power balance within the classroom and further highlights the lack of experience students have in taking responsibility for their own learning. This underscores the requirement for students to participate in learning and assessment development in order to develop skills which prepare them for learning beyond the classroom. In summary, the inclusion of student voice in assessment development leads to great student motivation, deeper learning experiences and equity for all students within the higher education environment.


Q: How can text analysis be utilised to enhance student voice in the development of higher education assessment methods?
A: Text analysis can play a crucial role in amplifying student voice by systematically reviewing and analysing feedback, suggestions, and discussions contributed by students. This method allows educators to identify common themes, concerns, and ideas that emerge from student contributions. For instance, by analysing texts from student forums, surveys, or feedback sessions, educators can gather insights into students' preferences for assessment formats, criteria, and feedback mechanisms. The analysis can help in tailoring assessment methods that not only align with educational goals but also resonate with students' expectations and student needs, thereby fostering a more inclusive and participatory educational environment.

Q: What are the potential barriers to implementing student voice in assessment, and how can they be overcome?
A: Implementing student voice in assessment faces several barriers, including resistance from faculty who may doubt students' ability to contribute meaningfully to assessment development, logistical challenges in coordinating student involvement, and the potential for a lack of diversity in the student voices that are heard. Overcoming these barriers requires a multifaceted approach. Educators and institutions need to provide professional development for faculty to understand the value of student voice and how to effectively integrate it into assessment practices. Additionally, implementing structured frameworks that ensure a diverse range of student voices are consulted can help mitigate bias and ensure inclusivity. Facilitating open dialogues and using technology to gather and analyse student feedback can also address logistical challenges by making the process more efficient and accessible.

Q: How does student voice in assessment impact equity in the classroom, particularly in STEM fields?
A: Student voice in assessment significantly impacts equity in the classroom by ensuring that diverse needs, preferences, and strengths are considered in the evaluation process. In STEM fields, where diversity and retention rates are often challenges, incorporating student voice can help create a more inclusive environment that acknowledges and values different ways of learning and participating. This approach can demystify assessment criteria, making them more transparent and fair, and can help reduce biases that might disadvantage certain groups of students. By allowing students to contribute to the development of assessment methods, educators can foster a sense of ownership and belonging among students, which is crucial for equity and for encouraging persistence in STEM disciplines.


[Source Paper] Chase, M. K. (2020). Student Voice in STEM Classroom Assessment Practice: A Pilot Intervention. Research and Practice in Assessment, 15(2).

[1] Deci, E. L., Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(3), 182-185.
DOI 10.1037/A0012801

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