What is moderation?

It seems that there is an enormous assumption that we know what moderation is and how to do it but do we really? Here’s some things that I think we know.

Moderation is a form of quality assurance that brings teachers together to review judgments across different assessments and reach some level of consensus about the application of educational standards in student work. The interpretation and application of the standards should be consistent within and across school sites to ensure that work of comparable quality will be awarded the same or similar grades. Matters describes moderation as ‘a set of processes designed to ensure that standards are applied consistently across teacher–assessors and across schools (p.2, 2006). Linn notes emphasis on ‘collegial support and the movement toward consensus judgments through social interaction and staff development (1993, p.99). Moderation should be a continually improving system that reflects changes and developments in curriculum, teaching and system requirements and provides valuable feedback to teachers, learners and schools.

Moderation is less about precision, such as might be expected in a 100 point scale and more about broad generalizations that hold true for a system of grades such as the five levels of achievement in Queensland’s senior schooling system or the seven grades common in many tertiary courses. In simple terms, moderation is about reliability in the sense of being a ‘guarantor of fairness, safeguarding against the possibilities of subjectivity and bias (Pitman, O’Brien and McCallow (1999) p.2). Moderation also provides information and feedback about quality of assessments and at its best can assure both validity and reliability.

The biggest assumption seems to be that social moderation is the way to achieve all these aims but maybe it’s time to question this. In Queensland’s senior school system, there has long been an emphasis on independent pre-review so maybe it’s time to place more emphasis on independent reviews to complement the social situation. Sadler has recently proposed the idea of calibration where practitioners share samples of evidence to ‘tune’ their understandings. There’s clear links between this and the use of annotates samples and exemplars.

Another assumption is that moderation is for teachers but if we truly believe in the value of using assessment to improve learning outcomes for students then maybe we should be establishing moderations activities for them too.

The proEMA approach incorporates aspects of all of these and I’m sure there are other approaches evolving in schools and even contexts outside education. So let’s not just assume that social moderation is the best and only way and begin building a wider view of what it is and how to do it.


Linn, R. L. (1993). "Linking results of distinct assessments." Applied Measurement in Education, 6, 83-102

Matters, G. (2006) "Statistical moderation and social moderation around Australia" International Association for Educational Assessment (IAEA). Singapore

Pitman, J.A., O’Brien, J. E., & McCollow, J. E. (1999). High-quality assessment: We are what we believe and do. Paper presented at the 25th annual conference of the International Association for Educational Assessment. Bled, Slovenia