The new Policy on Assessment of Student Learning (PASL), approved by McGill’s Board of Governors (BoG), will come into effect beginning Fall 2024. It will serve as the new guide for McGill instructors to assess student learning in both undergraduate and graduate courses across all faculties. The policy’s aim is to “promot[e] equity, consistency, effective learning experiences, a healthy learning environment, and academic integrity under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.”
The current University Student Assessment Policy (USAP) was initially approved in 2011 and was last amended in 2016. “The USAP was non-enforceable. So, essentially it was like a guideline which told instructors what to do in terms of their pedagogy and how to use assessments to teach [students],” VP University Affairs and member of the implementation committee Kerry Yang told the Daily. “So if a professor or course instructor were to break something in the USAP, it’s not like a student could be like, ‘well you broke this, you should change it.’”
The PASL, which was approved in May 2022, contains similar principles to the USAP, however its key differences reflect an evolution in the university’s academic objectives: “The principles shift how the university thinks about assessments and to have assessments be more in the mindset of testing students’ knowledge rather than be used to rank students and have students compete,” Yang told the Daily.
For the Desautels Faculty of Management which uses a bell curve grading policy, the new assessment policy implies changes to grade distribution and possibly the modes of assessment. Section 4.4 states that the distribution of grades and/or averages cannot be predetermined for any individual assessment or the course as a whole. Though this may have a more pronounced effect on the Faculty of Management, all McGill instructors will have to make changes to their courses to adhere to the new principles, inevitably evoking pushback. “It’s going to take some time because a lot of professors are resistant to the idea. [They] have this idea where you grade students based on which ones can sink and which ones can swim. [The policy] is about changing that mentality to where professors understand ‘OK grading is actually not about that, it’s about students learning what they need to learn in this class,’” said Yang.
An additional change that comes with the new assessment policy is a detailed process for contesting assessment practices. The new Section 10: Process for Contesting Assessment explains that students can now report occurrences of instructors’ pedagogy not being in accordance with the PASL: “In cases where a student believes this Policy is not being respected, they are advised to make their concern known by contacting the instructor and/or Program Director/Chair of the Department in writing.” This differs from the current policy which fails to provide a course of action for students to seek recourse.
The PASL also mandates and specifies assessment feedback for students. Section 4.2d says that there will be support for instructors to develop “effective and meaningful assessment and feedback strategies.” Furthermore, section 5.3 notes that students “must have the opportunity to receive some formative feedback before the University’s official course withdrawal (without refund) deadline.”
Though the principles of the PASL are designed to create a “fair, meaningful, and effective assessment of a student’s learning,” some of them continue to weigh individual assessments heavily. According to section 9.6, ‘final assessments’ are mandated to be a minimum of 25 per cent and a maximum of 75 per cent of the final grade. This mirrors the percentages in the current assessment policy, allowing instructors to continue to heavily weigh exams in their courses. These high-stakes exams can be harmful for many students’ learning, leading to consequences such as being forced to repeat a course.
When the Daily asked what this new policy means for the future of the university, Yang said, “[…] I think there’s a lot of realization that the older modes of thinking when it comes to assessments aren’t necessarily the best because it’s not the point of education. […] So I think the university sector in general is shifting towards that direction, and McGill is very clearly shifting towards that direction.” The COVID-19 pandemic prompted many universities to turn to a pass/fail grading system and eliminate required standardized test scores from their admission processes. However, since the pandemic, grade inflation has been increasingly prevalent at McGill as well as other Canadian universities. In terms of the new policy and the future of McGill’s academic reputation, Yang told the Daily, “It might affect [McGill’s] reputation, it might not, but time will tell in that regard.”
The new assessment policy will be reviewed by the Office of the Dean of Students and Teaching and Learning Services every five years, involving both students and instructors. The first review of the policy will happen in May 2027.
Find more information on the PASL website: https://www.mcgill.ca/pasl