Does grading method influence honours degree classification?

Yorke, Mantz; Barnett, Greg; Bridges, Paul; Evanson, Peter; Haines, Chris; Jenkins, Don; Knight, Peter; Scurry, David; Stowell, Marie and Woolf, Harvey (2002). Does grading method influence honours degree classification? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 27(3) pp. 269–279.



Variation in mark-spread is very evident in degree classification data provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Previous empirical investigations suggested that, at the level of the module, the spread of results might, in some subjects, be influenced by the method of grading (percentage marking or shorter grade-point scale). The availability of degree classification data from HESA made it possible to test whether the effect perceived at module level carried through to the honours degree classification. The empirically-generated hypothesis was that subjects characterised by a relatively narrow spread under percentage marking would show a wider spread when a grade-point scale of around 20 divisions was used, with the effect being detectable in honours degree classification data. The hypothesis was tested, using HESA data for academic years 1994-95 to 1998-99, on those new universities in England and Wales for which the existence of an institution-wide grading approach could be established. Tests were undertaken at the level of the HESA subject area, and at the more fine-grained level of the individual subject where numbers permitted. Results from the analyses are mixed. The analyses have probably been influenced by weaknesses in the way that HESA has collected award data, but nevertheless suggest lines for further inquiry into a matter that is of importance for equity within institutions (especially where modular schemes are being operated) and more broadly across the higher education sector.

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