Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 25. 2nd October 1975
Abolition of in-term assessment
Abolition of in-term assessment
In-term assessment was abolished for all law courses this year, except where there are individualised projects on which students do not co-operate. How did this happen? What is the nature of this 'abolition,' and what are the central issues in the ITA debate?
How it happened: failure of communication within the law school
The sequence leading up to the abolition of ITA was an example of failure of communications between staff and students, i.e. between people who meet one another every day. For some years the faculty had no firm policy on ITA., but in February 1974 a faculty committee recommended that the matter be 'finally resolved for 1975, by appointing a member of the faculty to report on the working of ITA in 1974 and previous years, with view to recommending to faculty whether or not it be retained for 1975.' The report was to be made after finals results for 1974 were out. Dr Congreve was given the task of making the report.
The effect was to make 1974 something of a test year for ITA. On the basis of 1974 and previous experience, a report and a decision on the report would be made. Note that student reps were present at the February meeting, and that which ratified Congreve's appointment. Congreve reported, as agreed, after the 1974 exam results were out. (Report is available in the Law library). On February 5 1975 the faculty met to consider the Report The student reps present wanted the decision deferred until students had come back from holidays and could be consulted, but this was considered "impracticable:" it would take a month to canvas students and that would take the date of the decision too far into the academic year.
Result: the decision was taken in February when students were on holiday. When we came back we were presented with what appeared to be a 'fait accompli.' It's no use blaming anyone for what happened. But it does illustrate the failure of communications between students and teachers who meet every day and should talk about important issues between them. Students were (I think) not aware that a definite decision was to be made on ITA before the 1975 academic year. My own understanding was that ITA would continue on the same haphazard basis as in 1973-4. Teachers didn't know we didn't know, plus were less interested, because ITA doesn't mean so much to those who don't sit exams. To us it was a vital issue, to them not so vital, our respective interests differed and we students didn't push sufficiently hard to make our interests represented.
The position now
First, the decision is not final. The faculty merely wanted to 'stop piddling around'. Law Fac Dean Thomas says that what was created can be demolished -a sufficiently strong opposition to the decision could reverse it.
Second, it was only a "recommendation" to individual teachers, who can ignore it if they want. When ITA was introduced all teachers were recommended to try it, including the conservative ones who didn't want it. The February 1975 decision has the same status.
The central issue involved
The central issue involved is the contradiction between the 'educational' and 'assessment' objectives of the course:
"It is a good thing that students get together to thrash out the issues. Co-operation is great..." (Thomas)
"...but that doesn't mean the student who had a wrong issue and was corrected during discussion, should get the same grade as the student who originally had the correct issue." (Thomas' next sentence)
The easiest way out of the contradiction is to separate the two elements, i.e. to use term work to fulfil the educational aim, and exams for assessment. That doesn't resolve the contradiction, it merely avoids it, trouble is it avoids it so as to help staff and hurt students. It is in their interests to abolish ITA, because they solve a difficult problem, save work and save hassles with students complaining of grading disparities. We get the worst of all worlds; have to sit 100% final exams, plus have to do reasonable in-term work to be granted "terms." Staff and students have conflicting interests where assessment is concerned, thus the need for us to be influential in the decision whether to retain in-term assessment, it is no good that the faculty decides the issue and assures us that "we have borne your interests in mind but regret that they did not weigh heavily enough!"
We students have not been vocal enough about the "abolition" of ITA. We need to be vocal because otherwise our interests will not count for much. The decision to "abolish" ITA is not final - it can be changed.