9. Navigating the ethical maze


Group Assignment Predicament

In addition to the many pedagogical benefits from working collaboratively (mentioned in previous posts), the ability to interact with others to achieve shared outcomes is important.   However, is it fair that an individual’s work is judged in part on the performance of others?  Can we confidently argue that no individual is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged when assessment is completed in a group?   As a teacher, if I set group assessment, it is my responsibility to ensure the content, format and conduct of assessment is designed to ensure that no individuals or groups of students are unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.  When things go awry, and they do, the resolution needs to be fair not for just for the group, but for the entire class.  The scenario below is just one example of what can go wrong with group assessment.

Students in your year 10 class are required to complete an assignment that involves group work. There are four students in each group. One student is absent from school due to a parent’s illness and their remote location means they can’t get to school (I shall call him Allan). The rest of the group report that they sent texts to the Allan with suggestions about how he could contribute, despite not attending class. The due date has arrived and Allan did not submit any work for one component of the task, which means a lack of evidence to assess the group’s skills and knowledge associated with one criterion. This is the last assessment piece of the year, and the difference between a ‘C’ and a ‘D’ grade in that criterion for Allan and two other students in the group.

What do I do now?

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As previously mentioned, things must be fair.  The Queensland Code of Ethics for Teachers requires that I demonstrate justice, meaning any resolution must be fair and reasonable (Queensland College of Teachers, 2008).

The group members attending school have made efforts to contact Allan. However, I need to determine if Allan received the messages and chose not to act on their propositions, or if due to his remote location, the messages didn’t get through.  This will impact on my decision making processes.  For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to say that Allan did not receive the messages and not apply any penalty.  This is in accordance with The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) (2011) Equity Statement that specifies all students should receive a socially just education, despite barriers to participation and diversity in life circumstances

The students attending school should not receive a compromised grade due to Allan’s non-contribution and will need an extension to their due date.  Given only one component is missing, I will require them to submit the work completed thus far.  This eliminates any advantage gained from the extension and is fair to the remainder of the class.  The revised due date will take into consideration the date Allan’s absence began to impact on the group, and the size of the missing component.

I am not able to waive the requirement for Allan to submit something, as in fairness to all, assessment practices should not seek to adjust for missed opportunities to learn by saying that students have demonstrated achievement, they have not demonstrated (QCAA, 2018).  If Allan has returned to school, he can complete with the group.  If Allan is still away, I will require him to submit a revised piece of assessment that will meet the learning objectives for this assignment.

As a teacher I will have a responsibility to foster the development of empathy, respect for others, and the capacity to act with integrity in my students (MCEETYA, 2008).  Additionally, ethical understanding is embedded in the humanities curriculum I will teach. For me to teach my students to act ethically and employ reasoning in decision making processes (ACARA, 2016), I need to demonstrate same.

In future I will consider the distinction between group work and group assessment and decide which fits best.  The same benefit may be obtainable from students researching as a group but submitting individual pieces of assessment.  Also, in hindsight, there should have been checks and balances in place to alert me to the situation sooner.  I should have sought a resolution when I knew the due date was approaching and Allan had been away.



Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA]. (2016). Australian Curriculum/f-10-curriculum/general-capabilities/ethical-understanding. Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/general-capabilities/ethical-understanding/

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs [MCEETYA]. (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. Retrieved from http://www.curriculum.edu.au/verve/_resources/National_Declaration_on_the_Educational_Goals_for_Young_Australians.pdf

Queensland College of Teachers. (2008).  Code of Ethics. Retrieved from https://www.qct.edu.au/pdf/CodeOfEthicsPoster20081215.pdf

Queensland Curriculum & Assessment Authority [QCAA]. (2018).  Guidelines for Assessment Quality and Equity. Retrieved from https://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/about/k-12-policies/equity-in-education

Queensland Curriculum & Assessment Authority [QCAA] (2011). QCAA Equity Statement. Retrieved from https://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/downloads/approach2/qcaa_equity_statement.pdf

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