Develop Systematic Approaches to Direct Assessment of Student Learning

by Arend Flick

Assessment can either be direct, focusing on actual student work where we look for evidence that learning has been achieved, or indirect, where we look for signs that learning has taken place through such “performance indicators” as surveys, focus groups, retention or transfer rates, etc. Both methods of assessment can be valuable, and in fact the assessment experts agree that no single assessment method should ever be relied on exclusively. Some effective direct assessment methods, all of which derive from the grading process itself, include

Learning Outcome

1-little or no evidence

2-insufficient evidence

3-adequate evidence

4-clear evidence

Organization,Focus, and Coherence

A very disorganized essay, with inadequate or missing introduction, conclusions, and transitions between paragraphs.

An essay with significant organization problems, and/or inadequate introduction, conclusion, and/or transitions.

An organized essay, though perhaps marginally so, with adequate introduction, conclusion, and transitions.

A well-organized essay, with effective introduction and conclusion and logical transitions between paragraphs


An essay with major development problems: insufficient, confusing,and/or irrelevant support for major points.

An essay with significant development problems: support for major points often insufficient or confusing.

A developed essay, though perhaps marginally so, with adequate support for most major points.

A very well developed essay, with full and effective support for all major points.

Conventions of Written English

Many significant errors in grammar, punctuation, and/or spelling.

Frequent minor errors and occasional major errors in grammar, punctuation, and/or spelling

Occasional minor errors but infrequent major errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Few or no errors in grammar, punctuation, or spelling.

Rubrics can be developed collaboratively with students, and in the classroom setting they have the additional advantage of helping to make grading practices as transparent as possible. But as assessment tools, their primary value is that they require instructors to “norm” themselves against a set of consensus evaluative criteria, enabling us to define (and hold to) our common teaching goals more sharply than we might otherwise do. Rubrics also let us identify specific areas where our students are having trouble achieving significant learning outcomes for our courses.

And Don’t Hesitate to Use Indirect Assessment Measures When Useful

Gathering a group of faculty for a holistic scoring session of essays or portfolios can provide very reliable assessment information. But it also takes time. Studies have shown that valid data can also be gleaned from easier, but indirect assessment techniques such as