Improving assessment design for all using TESTA (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment)
Engaging with so-called ‘hard to reach’ students remains a core mission of the UK Higher Education sector agenda, and was the key focus of our engagement with REACT.

The issues of retaining students and improving attainment are complex, and there is no 'one size fits all approach' for success. Our project examined 28,824 student records to identify those retention variables that are significant.

Mindful of the value of keeping students informed about their progress and attainment throughout their programme, the TESTA pilot from year 1 of implementation was included.

The data gained from the study was used to frame ways where TESTA could be further developed to improve student retention rates.

For more information, contact Simon Walker – Head of Educational Development

Video: Lecturers' Experience of TESTA Scheme at University of Greenwich

What does the scheme entail?

TESTA forms one component of the Quinquennial Programme Review process, and has so far worked with over 140 programmes, helping to enhance the design and implementation of assessment and feedback practice across the institution.

This constitutes one of the broadest and most successful adoptions of the TESTA methodology in the sector (Jessop, 2017), and we believe much of this is down to the approach and adaptation of the TESTA methodology, known as TESTA@Greenwich.

TESTA is a comprehensive process which investigates the student experience of feedback and assessment at programme level. It uses qualitative and quantitative data gathered from a wide range of written and verbal sources, including from staff and students, to provide programme teams with a ‘birds-eye view’ of assessment.

What support do you get from the University?

The TESTA team, comprising an academic lead, project officer and data analyst, supports data collection and analysis, and produces recommendations for enhancements:

1.     Assessment Experience Questionnaire (AEQ): asks students questions about their whole experience of assessment and feedback on their programme, up to the point at which is it administered.

2.     Focus Groups:  are used to gain qualitative data to add texture and depth to the quantitative data to gain a better understanding of what students are reporting.

3.     TESTA@Greenwich Audit:  looks at the assessment and feedback environment on the programme in terms of what the programme delivers to students, rather than their opinions on it.

What are the motivations behind the scheme?

A principal underpinning of TESTA@Greenwich is the ethos of partnership, which is key to fostering positive engagement with the process, and maximising the pedagogic and practical gain.

The process is confidential to the programme team. This deep institutional commitment  has provided a useful springboard for interventions that is owned by all 4 faculties.

Key benefits to the student

Students are engaged in feeding back thoughts and comments on their assessment through a structured questionnaire and through focus groups.

As a TESTA analysis also includes assessment mapping, staff can design out assessment bunching, consider variety and weightings to improve the student experience of assessment as programme and course levels.  Staff and students are enthusiastic about the process, exemplified by the following quotes:

“This was a useful and fairly painless way to get a good idea of how assessment and feedback is working on the programme. The [process] was well managed throughout and the final report is an excellent starting point for planning further improvements to our programme.”

“The findings provided a useful mapping of assessment practices that confirmed what we had suspected in a quantified manner. As such, it helped to inform the programme level assessment design.”

“Overall we have reduced the number of assessments, as well as reducing the reliance on purely written forms.”

Key benefits to the University

The constructive alignment of learning, teaching and assessment is paramount to the achievement of excellent student outcomes.

The University’s Assessment Strategy, overseen by the DVC-A and developed in collaboration with the Students Union, is operationalized through TESTA and Map My Assessment (MMA).

Both of these are mandatory at quinquennial programme review, but many staff use these tools earlier having witnessed the benefits in other programmes. Assessment practice that effectively stretches students to develop the independence, knowledge, understanding and skills that reflect their full potential is evidenced through TESTA data.

Furthermore, TESTA is a valuable way to achieve consistent student engagement. To date, around 2000 students have evaluating assessment practice through focus groups and completing the Assessment Experience Questionnaire (AER) relating to rigour, stretch and coverage (e.g. assessment encourages regular weekly working; working consistently hard; critical analysis; tests a range of skills; feedback informs future assignments).

Given the scope, depth and reach we are seeing cultural change in assessment practice.

Key benefits to the sector

The TESTA methodology has been adapted and developed at Greenwich and is fully embedded across the university. It is mandatory for all programmes undertaking quinquennial review.

Given its scope, TESTA has enabled the university to undertake research into other aspects of the students’ experience, such as retention.