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Assessing Student Learning

It is important to design your assessment so that it is clearly focused on determining whether your instructional goals, and your student learning objectives, are being met.
Though instructors generally assign students grades at the end of a particular unit, course etc., this type of assessment (called summative assessment) does not provide frequent, informal opportunities to get detailed and specific information on what students are learning. Nor does it provide an opportunity for students to assess their own learning process.
This more immediate feedback (or formative assessment) is what provides information that allows changes to be made during a course.
Broader or summative assessment does not link assessment items with specific objectives. This detailed objective level information is needed to use assessment results for improvement. Grades are summative and broad and usually assign a score to student performance across a set of learning objectives- such as for a unit of instruction or for the course itself-and thus provide little information on whether students attain the specific and distinct learning objectives you have defined.

Guiding Question

“How can I know whether my students are learning what I intended them to?”

Further Resources

Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning: The American Association of Higher Education has devised nine principles of good practice for assessing student learning.

Aligning Assessment with Learning Objectives

By making sure that assessments are aligned with your student learning objectives, and the instructional content, it is easier to ensure that:

  • You get a chance to measure student learning of the desired objectives.
  • You are providing students with the opportunities to learn and practice the knowledge and skills that will be required on the various assessments, and
  • Teaching and assessing are occurring at the same outcome level (as defined by Bloom’s Taxonomy or any other taxonomy used).

Guiding Question

“Which level/s of Bloom’s Taxonomy does this objective address? Is this a fit with my learning context?”

Further Resources

Aligning Assessments with Objectives (Information and great examples from Carnegie Melon University)
Example 1
Course Context: You have 20 students in a 200 level general education course. Your assigned classroom seats 25 students with movable desks. Field trips to community gardens are pre-arranged. Classroom has white boards, and computer and projector.
Goal: Students will design a garden
Objective 1: Given a site for a garden, students will be able to talk to stakeholders about their needs and select a garden theme for the proposed garden.
Bloom’s Outcome Level: Application, Analysis
Possible Course Topics:

  1. Purposes of gardens
  2. Climate zones and influences on local gardening
  3. Garden themes (Color, bulb gardens, cottage gardens etc.
  4. Working with stakeholders

Example Assessment Item: Short paper describing the garden theme chosen and reasons for the choice.
Assessment Tool: Grading checklist
Objective 2: Given a site and theme for a garden, students will be able to develop a plan for a garden that is appropriate to the location and climatic conditions.
Bloom’s Outcome Level: Analysis, Synthesis
Possible Course Topics:

  • Steps of the planning process
  • Climate zones and influences on local gardening
  • Types of plants, shrubs and trees
  • How to select plants for a garden.

Example Assessment Item: Garden Plan
Assessment Tool: Grading Rubric

Determining Appropriate Assessment Tools

Student learning assessment can be done to determine student learning over a period of time (with assessment conducted at specific points over the semester) or it can be done at a chosen moment during the course, depending on what you hope to learn from the assessment. If the intent is to assess for example, what students know about a topic at the start of a semester, as compared to when they leave class, then the long term assessment is more appropriate. If on the other hand, feedback is needed after a particular lecture, teaching a particular complicated issue,an immediate assessment is more appropriate and might take the form of a simple quiz, a sketch or a minute paper.

Examples of Assessment Tools

Classroom Assessment Techniques Minute papers, muddiest point, chain notes etc. (From Angelo, T. A. & Cross, P. K., 1993. Classroom Assessment Techniques (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Concept Mapping
LITRE Student Learning ToolKit:A collection of assessment and evaluation tools and methods is presented, with annotation and background provided, to allow the reader to make informed choices to meet their assessment needs. The tools and methods focus specifically around student learning and the areas of problem solving/critical thinking, research from sources, empirical inquiry and performance.
OFD Assessment Page

Assessing Your Teaching

Mid-Semester Evaluations
ClassEval at NC State

Other Resources

Testing and Evaluation in the Biological Sciences, Commission on Undergraduate Education in the Biological Sciences, Publication Number 20 (November 1967) (Library of Congress Number 67-31130). Copyright 1967 The George Washington University.