Moderation and Benchmarking

Over the years we have made some pretty dramatic changes to how we run senior English. We’ve abandoned TEEL, changed the way we provide assessment and feedback, and overhauled our school assessed coursework processes. And along the way, we tightened up our benchmarking and moderation processes to create I system which is fair, rigorous, and provides great professional learning opportunities for teachers. It even improved our results.

Prior to 2016 our benchmarking was nonexistent and our moderation was ad hoc. Teachers in the same year level occasionally swapped work, normally only willing to share their best students’ work out of a sense of personal embarrassment, or a protectiveness over the work of their students. We had very few moderation meetings, and at the end of the year when results were entered there was a strong likelihood students’ coursework results were skewed. If we had looked into it – which we didn’t at the time – we would have seen this proven by things like the statistical moderation report, which showed the grades we were awarding our students were sometimes higher or lower then reality compared to the rest of the cohort. Luckily for the students the examination moderation process is a great leveller, and whether you like the exam or not you can’t argue against the fact that the system ultimately rewards those who work hard during the final years.

But it wasn’t good enough. In 2017 our faculty began a rigorous process of improving our benchmarking and moderation. We went to meet the assessors lectures, listened to the examiners at conferences, and encouraged our VCE teachers to apply for assessor positions. Along the way we overhauled benchmarking and moderation process and improved to the point that across the entire cohort our coursework marks are now incredibly accurate and consistent, and we can guarantee that the students are getting marks they deserve.

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The process

I’ve already written about our SAC process so I won’t going to detail on that here, except to say that we don’t generally generally use exam style conditions for coursework, but allow students time to work on drafting and editing their responses, and then authenticate their work using plagiarism checker.

Once this is done our head of English Ben White deidentifies the work and then distributes it evenly across the teachers (at this point it’s worth pointing out this means a fair distribution of work even if one teacher has 15 students in the class and another has 26)

We then benchmark as follows:

1: Each teacher quickly scans their pile and sorts into high, medium, and low responses.

2. Each teacher submits the highest high, lowest low, and a piece indicative of the middle group.

3. Teachers then individually rank all of these pieces from top to bottom.

4. All of the teachers meet in a moderation meeting – we are lucky to have a timetabled fortnightly meeting which is not counted in the teachers’ loads, but are protected from extras/covers. Working either from high to low or low to high each teacher then presents a case for their rank order. These meetings can get pretty heated, but are honestly one of the highlights of being a VCE teacher.

We reach a consensus and then award grades. It’s important to note that we don’t give final numerical grades to the students. The students see final comments and how they have gone based on a rubric derived from the criteria. The Head of English then sends out a document containing all of the benchmark pieces in order of high to low with the numbers on them for use in the marking process.

The marking process

Teachers then return to their original anonymised marking piles and use the benchmarked pieces to award grades. We have a second meeting to moderate marking, and double-check that our feedback is fair.

Finally, the pieces are re-identified, put back into classes, and each teacher transfers the rubric and the final comments (not the numerical grade) to our LMS, SIMON.

Getting there

We didn’t invent this process, nor did we make all of these changes at once. A few years ago we started swapping our work more openly. Then, we appealed to school leadership to get the timetabled meeting periods. The year after that, we started anonymising and evenly distributing the SACs and the year after that – thanks to the new Head of Faculty who is very skilled at making these kinds of changes – we digitised the process, using Google Forms to speed up the final marking stages and reduce the time taken to transfer those marks onto the LMS.

This is a process that has evolved since 2017, and is still changing. Myself and the head of Faculty both assess the English exam, and we often learn something new about the process by listening to the advice from the Executive. Along the way, we have increased the consistency of our marking, the collegiality and collaboration of our teachers, and ultimately, our students’ results.

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4 responses to “Moderation and Benchmarking”

  1. As a former HT English, I can say that this process was very effective in our faculty. I led the moderation for Year 12’s and this helped the inexperienced teachers understand the marking process. It also improved our results as students were able to receive clear feedback. These sessions do get heated but teachers are able to assess students’s work fairly.

    1. Heated is definitely the word, but if teachers can get passionate about essay marking then maybe some of that will rub off on the students for essay writing!

  2. […] by VATE, or a session run directly by one of the exec, particularly chief assessor Karen Graham. I’ve posted before about our own internal benchmarking and moderation processes, but they have evolved over the past few years and are in formed very closely by the whole VCE […]

  3. […] marking for writing tasks is effective but takes a while to establish. It requires benchmarking and moderation processes, and an acceptance of the fact that these are not finite judgements: a ‘7’ […]

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