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The Validity and Reliability of Adaptive Comparative
Judgements in the Assessment of Graphical Capability
Dr Niall Seery, Jeffrey Buckley, Andrew Doyle and Dr Donal Canty
Department of Design and Manufacturing Technology
University of Limerick
The valid and reliable assessment of capability is of paramount importance in education.
Operationalizing assessment practices of divergent problems can be particularly challenging due
to the variety of potential responses. This paper investigates the use of Adaptive Comparative
Judgements (ACJ) in the assessment of graphical capability. A cohort of undergraduate Initial
Technology Teacher Education (ITTE) students (N=128) participated in this study which involved
completing a design task and subsequently assessing the work of their peers through ACJ and
criterion referenced assessment. The performance from both methods was analysed and identified
a high level of reliability for ACJ. Correlations between the criteria scores and ACJ parameter
values suggest its validity as an assessment mechanism, however they also present the potential
for additional variable to be influencing holistic judgements.
The ultimate aim of graphical education is the espousal of graphical capability. In an
educational context however this capacity is often externalized through the medium of design
where the fluid nature of the design process often makes it difficult to explicitly identify criteria. It
is therefore important that the operationalization of assessment practices considers the overarching
principles of graphical capability. Delahunty, Seery and Lynch (2012), through a review of the
pertinent literature, offer a variety of aptitudes associated with graphical education which include
cognitive capacities such as spatial cognition and deductive reasoning, communication skills such
as modelling and graphicacy, designerly proficiencies such as ideation and problem solving, and
suggest consideration for the pertinent knowledge base. While these skills are not mutually
exclusive, for example modelling could also be conceived as a designerly act depending on the
intent of the model, the broad categories form a conceptual model which facilitates in framing the
principles of graphical capability. These core principles appear to be graphicacy (both
communication and interpretation), design (having an understanding of the stages and functions of
design, being innovative, and being able to externalise ideas), and the pertinent knowledge base
(having a conceptual understanding of graphical principles), which are all underpinned by an
architecture of cognitive abilities such as fluid reasoning and spatial ability.
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The assessment of graphical capability under these core principles requires a mechanism
which can appropriately reward capacity despite the inherent difficulty in the explicit observation
of criteria. Sadler (2009) highlights two critical problems with the use of criterion referenced
assessment in this situation in that the sum of the criteria scores may not always reflect the
intuitive or holistic mark of the assessor, and that there may be criteria missing from an
assessment rubric that are important or alternatively may set the particular work aside as
exemplary. Additionally, making a judgment about a piece of work based on abstract or generic
criteria can be quite difficult.
The use of Adaptive Comparative Judgements (ACJ) (Pollitt, 2012) however affords a
mechanism which has previously been identified as a reliable approach for the assessment of
graphically orientated conceptual design tasks (Seery, Lane, & Canty, 2011). Based on
Thurstone's (1927) law of comparative judgement, ACJ can alleviate the issues with criterion
based assessment identified by Sadler (2009) as it is operationalized by judges making binary
judgments between two pieces of evidence. Multiple judgements on pairs of work ultimately result
in the generation of a rank order of the work. The issues identified with individual judgment are
avoided by having multiple judges assessing work thus nullifying personal biases. The reliability
in the ACJ method stems from the adaptive nature of the software, in that specific pieces of work
are selected as pairs for adjudication when additional judgements are needed to reach a consensus
on their rank position. The ACJ method relies on a holistic judgment with overarching criteria
used to guide the assessor in making a professional judgment (Kimbell et al., 2009). Perhaps the
most significant aspect of ACJ lies in its capacity to facilitate adjudications on varying criteria.
While a judge may base an initial judgement on certain criteria, subsequent judgements may be
subjected to different criteria depending on the nature of the work.
Therefore, considering the capacity of ACJ to incorporate professional and holistic
judgements, the primary purpose of this study is to examine its validity and reliability in the
assessment of graphical capability.
A cohort (N=128) of undergraduate Initial Technology Teacher Education (ITTE) students in
the 3rd year of their degree programme participated in this study as part of a Design and
Communication Graphics (DCG) module. All participants had previously completed three
prerequisite graphics education modules prior to this study. The focus of these modules was on
developing an understanding of plane and descriptive geometry with a particular emphasis on
developing competencies related to freehand sketching, parametric CAD modelling, technical
drafting and conceptual design.
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The initial phase of the study involved each of the participants engaging with a thematic
conceptual design brief (Table 1). The brief required the participants to design an aid for an
elderly person(s) to enhance their quality of life. No explicit criteria except for a size limitation on
the final portfolio were incorporated into the brief. Instead students were required to evidence their
own understanding of graphical capability.
Table 1. Design brief utilized in the study
Population pyramids for many developed countries highlight the reality of an aging population.
The inevitability of growing older brings with it many challenges to everyday activities. This calls
for new and innovative thinking to enrich the lives of our elderly and ensure facilitation of the
emotional, physiological, and social needs that guarantee an independent, dynamic and stimulated
Reinforcing the link between technology and society;
Design and model a personal device/artefact that will enhance the quality of life for an elderly
From a culmination of your knowledge and experience to date demonstrate evidence of graphical
Upon completion of the design task, the second phase of the study required the participants to
assess the portfolios using two methods. Initially, all participants assessed the work in an ACJ
session. For this, participants each made 10 judgements on unique pairs of coursework.
Participants were instructed to make judgements based on evidence of graphical capability.
Finally, subsequent to the ACJ session each participant then graded a randomized selection of
portfolios (mean = 14.67) on a ten point scale (1 = lowest, 10 = highest) under criteria aligning
with the core principles of graphical capability previously discussed (Table 2). The average grades
received for each portfolio under the individual criteria were derived as well as an average total
score across all criteria to support comparisons with the ACJ data.
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Table 2. Grading system and codex used for data analysis
Overall rate how effective the portfolio was communicated
Rate how innovative or creative the design solution was
How well did the student define the stages of the design approach
Rate the selection of appropriate functions (i.e. was the use of
CAD/sketching/etc. appropriate for the stage of the design that the student
used them in?)
Rate the evidence that supports the level of the knowledge displayed of
To analyse the data it was first necessary to elicit the performance rank created from the ACJ
session. Each portfolio attained a specific parameter value based on the outcomes of the
judgements it was involved in. The rank (Figure 1) illustrates a very high level of interrater
reliability of 0.961.
Figure 1. Portfolio parameter values and standard error bars indicating ACJ rank position
Subsequent to this, a preliminary graphical analysis was conducted to observe any underlying
relationships between the portfolios ACJ rank position and the performance on the grading
criteria. This involved graphing the mean score achieved for each criterion against the rank
positions. An example of this is shown below in Figure 2 which illustrates a positive relationship
between the portfolios rank position and the average score achieved across all grading criteria. A
similar positive trend emerged in all cases.
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Figure 2. Mean 'average score' score and ACJ rank position
To examine these relationships more explicitly, a correlational analysis was conducted
between average scores for all criteria and the parameter values achieved by each portfolio. All
observable correlations were statistically significant at the p < 0.001 level with moderate
correlations (r = .403 to r = .507) emerging between the parameters values and grading criteria.
Correlations between each of the grading criteria range from high (r = .760) to very high (r =
Table 3. Correlation matrix of performance variables
**. Correlation is significant at the 0.001 level (2-tailed).
Discussion and Conclusion
The results of this study are of particular interest in the assessment of graphical capability.
The use of ACJ proved highly reliable through the achievement of an interrater reliability score of
0.961. This result corroborates the findings of Seery et al., (2011) who achieved a similar score.
Daniel Webster College – 2016
With respect to the validity of ACJ, the high correlations amongst all of the grading criteria
suggest that they are all aspects of the same construct which is posited to be graphical capability.
However as only moderate correlations are observable with the parameter value, this presents a
degree of misalignment which suggests that additional variables are contributing to rank position.
As no criteria correlated excessively highly with the parameter relative to the others, this suggests
one single criterion was not the sole focus of the judging cohort which aligns with the holistic
nature of ACJ. It is posited that the grading criteria list is omitting critical elements associated
with the task which would strengthen the correlation between the ACJ parameter and the average
criteria score. This could take the form of additional variables or a bifurcation of the current
variables. Ultimately it appears that ACJ has the capacity to validly measure the construct of
graphical capability as biases towards specific elements are not present, however the question
regarding the nature of additional variables impacting on its adjudication has now emerged.
Delahunty, T., Seery, N., & Lynch, R. (2012). The Growing Necessity for Graphical Competency.
In T. Ginner, J. Hallström, & M. Hultén (Eds.), PATT26 (pp. 144–152). Stockholm, Sweden:
Kimbell, R., Wheeler, T., Stables, K., Shepard, T., Martin, F., Davies, D., … Whitehouse, G.
(2009). E-scape Portfolio Assessment: Phase 3 Report. London: Goldsmiths College.
Pollitt, A. (2012). Comparative Judgement for Assessment. International Journal of Technology
and Design Education, 22(2), 157–170.
Sadler, D. R. (2009). Transforming Holistic Assessment and Grading into a Vehicle for Complex
Learning. In G. Joughin (Ed.), Assessment, Learning and Judgement in Higher Education
(pp. 45–63). Netherlands: Springer.
Seery, N., Lane, D., & Canty, D. (2011). Exploring the Value of Democratic Assessment in
Design Based Activities of Graphical Education. In 118th Annual American Society of
Engineering Education Conference. Vancouver, British Columbia: American Society for
Thurstone, L. L. (1927). A Law of Comparative Judgement. Psychological Review, 34(4), 273–
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