What do we want to know?
Empirical research into student self and peer assessment has been concerned either with comparison of students’ own assessment with teachers’ assessment, or the effects of introducing self and peer assessment on students. This review is not concerned with the former but only with impact on students’ academic achievement and non-cognitive outcomes. Several studies in an earlier review by Black and Wiliam (Assessment Reform Group 1999, Black and Wiliam 1998a & b) reported gains in achievement of students who have been involved in self and peer assessment, but there is no existing systematic review of this field. The aim of the review was to fill this gap by addressing, through a systematic review, the research evidence of the impact on students in secondary schools of self and peer assessment. Evidence of how any impact depends on particular circumstances has been sought so that, where trustworthy evidence is found, implications for policy and practice can be identified.
Who wants to know and why?
Key agencies in the integrated children’s services are expected to attend collaboratively to the well-being and growth of the learner as a person in a community. The Children Act (DFES 2004) and Children Plan (DCSF 2007) emphasise this and the five themes they espouse represent a range of factors and outcomes that should be attended to if learners are to take responsibility for themselves as lifelong learners. Putting the learner at centre stage in this process makes self and peer assessment a critical issue for both policy and practice because it builds upon students’ self awareness, ownership of their own learning process and responsibility for their own learning. This review, focusing as it does on student self and peer assessment, will build on what is known by exploring evidence about the impact of this process on student outcomes.
What did we find?
Most studies reported some positive outcomes for the following:
- Pupil attainment across a range of subject areas (9 out of 15 studies showed a positive effect)
- Pupil self-esteem (7 out of 9 studies showed a positive effect)
- Increased engagement with learning, especially goal setting, clarifying objectives, taking responsibility for learning, and/or increased confidence (17 out of 20 studies showed a positive effect)
Conditions that affect the impact of self or peer assessment
- The classroom culture was related to positive outcomes for students. The teacher needs to be committed to learners having control over the process, and to be able to discuss learning and develop effective student feedback.
- Self and peer assessment are more likely to impact on student outcomes when there is a move from a dependent to an interdependent relationship between teacher and students which enables teachers to adjust their teaching in response to student feedback.
- Although no clear relationship between students owning the process and positive outcomes was established in the review, it does seem to be important to involve students in ‘co-designing’ the criteria for evaluation. This helps them to develop a better grasp of their own strengths and weaknesses. Students need to be aware of the targets they are trying to achieve, and these should focus on outcome not process goals.
- There were no significant differences for different groups of students (for example by gender, ethnicity or prior attainment).
- There was no clear evidence to show whether peer and self assessment works better in some subjects than others, although limited evidence suggests that practice-based subjects may respond more immediately but that the outcomes are less embedded than in other subjects.
What are the implications?
The policy implications are concerned with ensuring greater emphasis on self and peer assessment within existing policies and making the relationships explicit rather than the creation of new or separate policies.
- The national primary and secondary strategies include coverage of personalised learning and assessment for learning that incorporate aspects of self and peer assessment. There is also discussion of group work in the materials that these strategies have made available to schools. It is clear from this review that students need to be taught both the skills of self assessment and those required to work with others if peer assessment is to be further developed. It appears that the dialogue involved in peer assessment in particular might be challenging but that peer assessment can help develop students’ understanding of the requirements. In self assessment, no dialogue is involved with other students, but this understanding of requirements might take longer since the student is pursuing this in isolation.
- Teachers need self and peer assessment issues to be further built into both initial training and continuing professional development. Increasingly, this emphasis will need to extend to the training and staff development of other staff involved in integrated children’s services provision.
- The relationship between the outcomes of attainment and other outcomes such as ‘enjoyment’ and ‘well-being’ will need to be clearly articulated. The evaluation of these broader outcomes presents a challenge in terms of measurement.
- There was no evidence to support targeting of particular age, ‘ability’ or ethnic groups. The diverse range of pupils that these studies noted can benefit from self and peer assessment might suggest that such assessment can be a helpful context for enhancing inclusion. Sensitivity is needed to protect students from negative ‘exposure’ of any lack of progress or difficulties.
Implications for practice
- The review highlights the need for teacher commitment to learner control, developing a language for dialogue about learning and moving from a dependent to an interdependent relationship between teacher and students. Classrooms characterised by these processes will enable teachers to respond pedagogically to student feedback. This is at the heart of the personalising learning agenda.
- Seven studies identified the crucial need for students to receive some training in self assessment and to understand the terms and concepts which they are expected to use to assess themselves. While this has implications for building self and peer assessment into the national policies, it also suggests the need to build in these processes to day-to-day activities in classrooms.
- One study reported the influence of parents on pupils’ own judgements of their work and identified the importance of parents being given a broader view of outcomes beyond grades. While this is derived from limited evidence, it suggests a need for more dialogue between parent, teacher and student.
How did we get these results?
Ten electronic databases were searched and 19 key journals searched by hand. Review team members scanned reference lists, contacted key informants and organisations, and searched websites for research to include in the review. After examining the research in detail and assessing it for relevance and quality, the review’s conclusions are based on an in-depth synthesis of 26 studies.
The EPPI-Centre reference number for this report is 1614T.
This report should be cited as:
Sebba J, Crick RD, Yu, G, Lawson H, Harlen W, Durant K (2008) Systematic review of research evidence of the impact on students in secondary schools of self and peer assessment. Technical report. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.