The difference between evaluation and feedback

June 2010 copyLike many in education, I have spent the past month or so assessing exams and assignment submissions, as well as providing feedback on students’ performances.

In the case of the CIPR professional qualifications (Advanced Certificate and Diploma), the results have been very positive – with 100% pass on two of the three assignments and 92% success for the Cambridge Marketing College students on the other.  (Well done all!)

The University marking I have been involved with has been more mixed – good performance for dissertation students and some disappointments with the first year exam guys.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing if they can learn from the experience what they need to do in future.

However, marking work is not the same as providing feedback to guide future performance.  And most of the assessment I have been involved with has required markers to complete a single sheet to evaluate work which is then given to students as feedback.

This ignores the fundamental differences between summative and formative evaluation.  Marking sheets are essentially about summative assessment against key criteria used to determine how well students (individually and as a whole) perform in the relevant assignment.  This is important in ensuring work is marked fairly and accurately, and enables it to be moderated against other students, other markers and other teaching centres (in case of CIPR).

Formative assessment on the other hand, is about providing guidance to improve performance.  The distinction is clarified by Robert E Stake who states:

“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative; when the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.”

Of course, it is important that there is an end product which can be evaluated.  In PR terms, a journalist will make a final decision on the usefulness or otherwise of a press release, for example.  In academic terms, we need to see whether or not students have demonstrated the required level of performance.  That’s what our assessment sheets are intended to do – with their criteria related tick boxes, % breakdown by category, and detailed comments.

My concern is that this process does not actually help students in terms of improving their performance.  What you are concerned about is whether or not someone met the required standard for a grade or to achieve a qualification.  The work may not be great – but it did tick enough boxes, gain sufficient marks or see positive comments outweigh the negative.

To an extent, failing an assignment can be a better learning experience as then you should be given guidance on where you went wrong and what to correct for next time.

Perhaps this is why I value the process involved in supervising dissertations (or the final critique/project in the case of the CIPR Advanced Certificate and Diploma).  Here, we are involved in a developmental process with students – where feedback on their performance helps them to reflect and develop their learning.  We can see performance and development as work is refined – which undoubtedly leads to an enhanced result (provided the student really reflects on what is advised or discussed)

However, students have to remember that feedback along the way is about giving guidance on the work – not assessing how well it will do in the final evaluation.  The formative stage is not about stating whether or not a work will pass or achieve a particular grade – it is about how it can be improved and what the student needs to do to develop their understanding and deepen their knowledge.

When it comes to the final submission of these assignments, markers are not thinking about the individual student but on whether or not the submission is good enough.

Rightly these are two different processes – but the single assessment sheet does not really enable markers to reflect on both how well the submission met the criteria, and provide formative guidance.

Mind you, given the pressures on assessment – with little time and money set aside for this vital part of the education process, it is perhaps not surprising that we can’t really combine evaluation and feedback sufficiently well.

Sometimes the teaching and assessment process feels like a treadmill – rather than really enabling people to maximise their potential and improve their skills.  But perhaps there is only so much as educators that we can do – and the real lesson is for students to become more reflective themselves in order to undertake their own formative assessment.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

One thought on “The difference between evaluation and feedback”

  1. This is a brilliant insight, Heather – many thanks for posting it. Will really help me in my future studies, I think: and puts a lot of the processes I went through last year during my ILM studies into context, too!

    Formative assessment; I had plenty of it as I studied, and it really did reinforce the subjects for me. As the tutors explained, it’s better to start average and improve through the modules: thanks to formative assessment, I was able to do this.

    Now I look forward to more of it!


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