Predicting success in higher education: the value of criterion and norm-referenced assessments

Article English OPEN
Prince, Robert (2016)
  • Publisher: University of Cumbria
  • Subject: Z489
    acm: ComputingMilieux_COMPUTERSANDEDUCATION

Higher education’s ability to retain students through to graduation appears to be an international challenge. This is also the case in South Africa where only 27% of student complete their studies in minimum time and where 55% are unlikely to ever graduate. These challenges have meant that extended degree programmes, where degrees are formally done over a longer period of time, have become a feature of South African education. One challenge is determining which students will benefit from an extended programme. In South Africa there are two sets of assessments that are pertinent to this debate: the national school leaving examinations (a statutory requirement for entry into higher education) and the National Benchmark Tests. The national school leaving assessments are norm-referenced, making it often difficult to interpret the results for placement purposes. The National Benchmark Tests are criterion-referenced, and are thus better suited for this placement. This paper describes the two assessments, and tracks the academic standing of a cohort of students over six years at one higher education institution. It argues that using the results of the two assessments in complementary ways is the most productive approach for the purpose of placement at this institution and others in South Africa. The implications of considering these assessments is briefly explored in broader higher education contexts.
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