Assessment Overview

By Cassie Morton with Mark Ferrer

"An assessment is an activity, assigned by the professor, that yields comprehensive information for analyzing, discussing, and judging a learner’s performance of valued abilities and skills."
- Huba and Freed

What is the outcome you want for your students in your course, and how do you measure it? 

Student assessment should improve performance, not just monitor it. It should be a tool to provide feedback for students as to how well they are achieving your goals for them. Your assessments should be consistent with your course goals, and your tests and exams are only a small facet of assessment. Your course goals and your learning objectives should be written using assessable terms. Written work, group work, in-class participation and other demonstrations of competency in your course should also be included in your assessment strategies.

Another facet of assessment is your own self-assessment for how well you are doing as a teacher. Beginning with classroom research and continuing with a document called a teaching dossier or portfolio, this is a collection of reflections, samples of student work, improvements on the syllabus, comparisons with other courses, and many other products of your teaching.



Student Assessment Should:

Improve Performance

Be a Feedback Tool

Be Consistent with Course Goals



Huba and Freed, Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning (Allyn & Bacon, 2000, p. 10)

Define the objectives of the course in terms of what students will be able to do, and then create the measurements (examination questions, projects, portfolios, presentations, journals, etc.) that will clearly identify whether students can use or apply the knowledge they have gained.

Find out what works for your students, what motivates, interests, and pushes them forward. Isolate those elements that break their momentum, confuse, lower the stakes, and invite them to lose focus. Assessment is central to finding out what can be done to increase and strengthen the learning opportunities you create in structuring your course.

A collection of some of the greatest minds regarding the scholarship of teaching has gathered for several years to explore best practices and current thinking about assessment. Their work has been published under the auspices of the American Association of Higher Education at the Assessment Forum, and they have developed the following principles for assessing student learning:

AAHE’s 9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning

    1. The assessment of student learning begins with educational values.
    2. Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.
    3. Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.
    4. Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.  
    5. Assessment works best when it is ongoing not episodic.
    6. Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.
    7. Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.
    8. Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.
    9. Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public.

For more detail see:

Wilbert McKeachie, author of Teaching Tips, and one of the most popular authors on teaching in higher education, offers several assertions on assessment.

    1. What students learn depends as much on your tests as your teaching.
    2. Don’t think of tests simply as a means for assigning grades. Tests should facilitate learning for you as well as for your student.
    3. Use some nongraded tests and assessments that provide feedback to your students and you.
    4. Check your assessment methods against your goals. Are you really assessing what you hoped to achieve, for example, higher-order thinking?
    5. Some goals (values, motivation, attitudes, some skills) may not be measurable by conventional tests. Look for other evidence of their development.
    6. When the course is over, students will not be able to depend on you to assess the quality of their learning. If one of our goals is continued learning, students need practice in self-assessment.
    7. To summarize: assessment is not simply an end-of-course exercise to determine student grades. Assessments can be learning experiences for students. Assessment throughout a course communicates your goals to students so that they can learn more effectively; it will identify misunderstandings that will help you teach better; it will help you pace the development of the course; and, yes, it will also help you do a better job of assigning grades. ( McKeachie, Teaching Tips, p.85)

Attributes of learner-centered assessment:

  • promotes high expectations
  • respects diverse talents and learning styles
  • enhances the early years of study
  • promotes coherence in learning
  • synthesizes experiences, fosters ongoing practice of learned skills, and integrates education and experience
  • actively involves students in learning, and promotes adequate time on task
  • provides prompt feedback
  • fosters collaboration
  • depends on increased student-faculty contact

Source: Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses (2000)

Another AAHE project has developed Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. Sometimes referred to as Wingspread, named after the conference that produced them; these principles have been expanded into various inventories related to the principles. Principle four in the faculty inventory is:

Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback

  1. I give quizzes and homework assignments.
  2. I prepare classroom exercises and problems which give students immediate feedback on how well they do.
  3. I return examinations and papers within a week.
  4. I give students detailed evaluations of their work early in the term.
  5. I ask my students to schedule conferences with me to discuss their progress.
  6. I give my students written comments on their strengths and weaknesses on exams and papers.
  7. I give my students a pre-test at the beginning of each course.
  8. I ask students to keep logs or records of their progress.
  9. I discuss the results of the final examination with my students at the end of the semester.
  10. I call or write a note to students who miss class.


How do you assess the effectiveness of your classroom and use that information to improve your classroom?

Published in 1993, Classroom Assessment Techniques has had a major impact on the practice of student assessment.  Perhaps the reason for this is that the work provides specific examples of assessment techniques in several categories (e.g., course-related knowledge and skill, reaction to class activities, etc.).  The practical aspect of having a compendium of good assessment techniques, along with descriptions of how to use them effectively, at faculty’s fingertips endears this resource to time-pressed teachers looking for efficient ways to improve their assessment practices.

Angelo and Cross also offer a set of assumptions about good assessment that are reflected in The Seven Basic Assumptions of Classroom Assessment:

    1. The quality of learning is directly, but not totally, related to quality of teaching.  To improve your students’ learning, improve your teaching.
    2. Make your teaching goals and objectives explicit; then measure the extent to which students achieve those objectives.
    3. Students must receive appropriate & focused feedback early and often and must also learn how to assess their own learning in order to be most successful.
    4. “The type of assessment most likely to improve teaching and learning is that conducted by faculty to answer questions they themselves have formulated in response to issues or problems in their own teaching.”
    5. Proper classroom assessment techniques used by faculty are sources of professional development, growth, renewal, and challenge for teachers.
    6. Good classroom assessment does not require specialized training; it can be accomplished by all teachers.
    7. Collaborate with peers and with students in classroom assessment efforts to enhance learning and personal satisfaction.

Use the following check list as a guide when you design an assessment of your teaching. Assess the extent to which you have been able to:

o  Promote high expectations

o   Answer questions you have formulated in response to issues or problems in your own teaching.

o   Respect diverse talents and learning styles

o Use assessment results to improve subsequent learning

o  Define the objectives of the course in terms of what students will be able to do

o  Create and apply measurements that identify whether students can do, with the knowledge they have gained, the things you have specified in your goals and objectives.

o  Gather and discuss information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do

o  Make your teaching goals and objectives explicit

o  Give students appropriate & focused feedback early and often

o  Help students learn how to assess their own learning in order to be most successful

o  Require students to function at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy

o  Foster ongoing practice of learned skills

o  Integrate education and experience

o  Actively involve students in learning

o  Promote adequate time on task

o  Provide prompt feedback on an ongoing basis

o  Foster collaboration

o  Increase student-faculty contact

o  Produce a sustained learning experience that is multidimensional, integrated, and revealed over time

o  Develop and pursue clear, explicitly stated purposes

o  Focus on issues of use, and illuminate questions people really care about