Presenting at the Festival of Assessment

My colleague, Kourosh, and I were delighted to present at the recent Festival of Assessment, which showcased good assessment practice from around the University. We got slightly cold feet when we were informed that, to keep us within the five-minute allocation, it would be pecha kucha style, i.e. our slides would be set to auto-advance and we could only use a maximum of 10 (stressful but effective!).

We spoke on the development of a set of simple descriptors to support the assessment of language use as part of our broader curriculum development project at MUIC.

Creation of the descriptors

As students at MUIC need to improve their English language proficiency and academic literacies before articulating to their degree, we need to embed the development of language and academic literacies into a range of units. We also know from experience and the literature that students are likely to pay more attention when language is explicitly assessed (Arkoudis et al., 2018; Hoadley & Wood, 2013). So we decided to create a set of language use descriptors that could be used by content specialists who are not linguists in a range of units and assessment types.

To do this, we formed a Rubrics Working Party of language experts and learning designers from our Foundation and Diploma team at MUIC. Many of the team have assessed for a range of high-stakes language tests including IELTS. First, we reviewed best practice in assessment. We then considered the criteria (what might be assessed) such as grammatical range, accuracy; vocabulary range & appropriateness, cohesion and coherence. Next, we explicitly considered the proficiency level of MUIC students (approx. IELTS 5.5-6.5). From this, we devised a set of simple language use descriptors on a scale from 1 to 5, while consciously avoiding discipline jargon that could be problematic for the non-linguist assessor or students.

Testing them out

We ran the first draft by MUIC teachers who taught maths, media and science subjects at Foundation and Diploma levels. Their feedback was invaluable in understanding what they felt comfortable with and what they felt was beyond their expertise. Grammatical range was one such case; this criterion was removed from the final version of the descriptors.

The Working Party amended the rubric as a result of the feedback and ran several options by teachers to choose the wording they felt most comfortable with. The final product is now available to adapt for any language-rich assessment task.

Next steps

We can now use or adapt the basic Language Use descriptors to meet the requirements of specific assessment tasks as we continue to re-develop our units. We will also need to undertake teacher professional development during the implementation phase. Over time, we will need to evaluate the effectiveness of the language descriptors in the broader rubrics, and the confidence and accuracy of teacher application.

MUIC is happy to share the rubric with anyone who is interested. If you want to know more, please contact me or anyone on the working party.

The MUIC Rubric Working Party

  • Cintia Agosti
  • Kimberley Duncan
  • Josh Dymock
  • Pamela Humphreys
  • Kourosh Langarizadeh
  • Caroline Lunt
  • Michelle Mora Ulate
  • Dimity Wehr


Arkoudis, S., Harris, A. Kelly, P. Hunter, K, & Lynch, A. (2018). What works best: Strengthening the evidence base for English language practices in higher education. Canberra: Office for Learning and Teaching.

Hoadley, S., & Wood, L. (2013). How to embed discipline-specific discourse: Learning through communication. Macquarie University. ISBN 978-0-9805685-9-2.

Posted by Pamela Humphreys

I am the Director of MUIC and the ELC. I am passionate about supporting students with English as an Additional Language (EAL) on their journey to - and through - their university studies.

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