Peer assessment as a contribution to the evaluation process in higher education

Peer assessment is the evaluation that is made of students' work by colleagues of equal status. This peer assessment is normally accompanied by a formal self-assessment. Both self-assessment and peer assessment allow students to reflect on their own and their peers' efforts, and the feedback they receive and give enriches this insight.

In a peer assessment, students consider "the quantity, level, value, worth, quality or success of learning from peers of similar status" (Topping, 1998).

Peer assessment can be formative or summative: In formative assessment, students provide feedback on each other's work during the process of its completion and before the final product is finished, in order to improve the quality of the learning process. In summative assessment, students are expected to grade not only the work that was the final submission but also the process that leads to its completion, where students assess the contributions of their peers to the work.

Peer assessment is most commonly used for written assignments, both individual and in group work, but can also be applied to oral presentations, assessment of practical skills and other types of assignments.

The use of peer assessment should take in consideration that:

  1. Students may not have the disciplinary expertise or assessment experience of the teacher, and therefore can issue unsophisticated judgments of their peers. To avoid unfairness, inaccuracy, and limited comments, formative peer assessments may need to be supplemented with instructor feedback.
  2. While student peer assessments are most often fair and accurate, they sometimes can be subject to bias. In competitive educational contexts, for example when students are graded normatively (“on a curve”), students can be biased or potentially game their peer assessments, giving their fellow students unmerited low evaluations. Conversely, in more cooperative teaching environments or in cases when they are friends with their peers, students may provide overly favorable evaluations. Also, other biases associated with identity (e.g., race, gender, or class) and personality differences can shape student assessments in unfair ways. Therefore, it is important for instructors to encourage fairness, to establish processes based on clear evidence and identifiable criteria, and to provide instructor assessments as accompaniments or correctives to peer evaluations.

Peer assessment can improve student learning by:

  • Clarifying assignment goals and criteria
  • More feedback, more quickly
  • Learning through giving feedback
  • Increased critical engagement with assignments
  • Encourages reflective comparison
  • Active engagement
  • Improved understanding of their own work
  • Increased opportunities for participation in the grading process
  • Development of lifelong skills

Many positive findings have come from peer assessment studies, showing that the students who participate in peer assessment demonstrated significantly higher quality in the subsequent writing assignment than others (Cho, K., & MacArthur, C., 2011). Students benefit from providing feedback to peers more than any other activities that are part of the assessment process. Identification of problems and suggestions for improvement by peer assessors is a significant predictor of student performance for the students giving the feedback (Liu, J. and Law, N., 2012). These findings support the idea that the act of assessing and providing feedback to peers offers a significant learning benefit in the peer assessment process.

According with the review of Ashenafi (2015), although students may have doubts and initially tend to resist being involved in peer assessment, such resistance decreases over time.

Most important, peer assessment is at a stage where practitioners and educators need to establish design quality and measurement standards, which guarantees proper evaluation and comparison of practices (Ashenafi, 2015). Given careful attention, the peer assessment may lead toward to a more sophisticated higher education assessment practices, and the delivery of plentiful feedback that can help learners identify their strengths and weaknesses, target areas for remedial action, and develop metacognitive and other personal and professional skills (Topping, 2009).

Trigueiro, MJ; Faias, J.

Escola Superior de Saúde do Politécnico do Porto