We are in the middle of the November visual arts examination session so I thought that I would highlight some assessment-related things that friend and colleague Jayson Paterson recently said on My IB.

(As many will know, Jayson is one of the My IB visual arts experts and responsible for the visual arts Community forum. In some sections below I am quoting Jayson because his considered opinions are very much in line with my own.)

Here are five issues that can play a role when assessing the work of students.

1 Beware subjective (or emotional) involvement

Teachers may sometimes find it hard to distance themselves from the struggles and hard work of some students whose work, nonetheless, is comparatively weak.

In some ways it’s natural to want to reward effort.

Our perspective as teachers is different to examiners. We are attached to our students and their work. We know their intentions. We know their practice, and in assessing them, we cannot unknow or distance ourselves to be objective…The best advice I can give is to undertake a process of internal standardization before you submit marks. We have three different teachers mark each submission independently. We then come together and talk through the marks we’ve given and determine a definitive mark for submission. Past experience has shown that it is often the marks of the teacher who is most removed from the student who arrives at the mark closest to the moderator’s mark”. (JP)

2 The complexity of the Arts assessment process

For the Process Portfolio “there are over 1800 possible combinations of criterion marks that will give a student 17 marks out of 34. What this means when training examiners is that two scripts that are awarded 17 marks can look completely different. They can have different strengths and different weaknesses.”

Despite the fact that we have assessment criteria. our subject is still scarily complex. There are multiple routes to achieving any mark, and its frequently a matter of juggling achievement in different strands and descriptors. This balancing act is sometimes described as ‘best-fit’, but its rarely simple.

3 Assess the digital documentation not the real thing

The examiner no longer visits the school, has a chat with the art teacher, inspects the exhibitions and then interviews the students in person. That ship has sailed quite a few years ago. Examiners no longer see the real thing.

The ‘real thing’ may be a lot more impressive that the digital photo but please ignore the real thing when marking. Place yourself in the shoes of the examiner/moderator and assess the digital photo.

“The guide instructs teachers to assess their student work based on the documentation that the students are submitting rather than the physicality of the exhibition itself. This is critical to the reliability and authenticity of the assessment process: that the moderator and the examiner are assessing the same material.”

4 Select the most appropriate form of representation

Is a photo always the best option? It may be that some aspects of the work are not communicated effectively through a photo, for example because details are not sufficiently emphasized? Maybe a video would give a more accurate  

Reflection of the piece? You have the choice of documentation through video in the exhibition: consider which format is most effective.

5 Scales of differentiation: the teacher’s perspective vs the examiner’s perspective.

Our perspective as teachers is in a sense limited. We might teach 12 – 20 students each session. We perceive differentiation between our strongest and weakest students and may be tempted to fit those differences at opposite ends of the 1 – 7 scale. So let’s say you think that your best student deserves a 7 and your weakest a 3.

In the May 2019 session, some 15000 students undertook Visual Arts (about 10000 at HL and 5000 at SL).

When qualities in all these students’ work are considered, the ‘bigger picture’ tends to show much less differentiation. Moderators inevitably get an international/global overview.

An art teacher who assessed his/her group’s marks as ranging from 3 to 7 may find that the range is compressed. The top student actually earned a 6 and the weakest received a 4. The examiner has a global view and is able to assess more realistically than the individual teacher.