Effective Assessment

Incorporating and Documenting Effective Assessment

"If you are serious about quality, everybody has to know how they are doing" (Marchese, 1991, p. 5).

Assessment is an integral part of the educational process.  While many instructors think of assessment as a final outcome measure to determine students' understanding and, consequently, course grades, quality assessment is woven throughout course goals, learning objectives, and instructional activities.  Assessment is designed to guide both instructors and students by providing insight on student learning and the effectiveness of instructional activities.

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There has been considerable debate regarding the effective integration and implementation of assessment strategies.  To assist instructors in developing effective assessments, the American Association for Higher Education has created some general principles to promote high quality assessment of student learning (Pausch & Popp, 1997):

  • Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.

  • Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.

  • Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.

  • Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic.

  • Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.

  • Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.

  • Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.

  • Through assessment educators meet responsibilities to students.

Due to the varied nature and goals of assessment, it is vital that instructors invest adequate time and energy in selecting, documenting and implementing their assessment strategies.  As highlighted below, assessments are utilized for a variety of purposes for the student, instructor, and educational institution.  This range of diversity and the implications of assessment mandate that assessments be thoughtful, effective, and well documented.

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There is little debate that the role and importance of assessment has changed over recent years.  With increased concerns about the quality of education, demands for accountability, and emphasis on student-centered approaches to teaching and learning, there is a movement to radically alter the form and function of assessment.  As highlighted by the National Science Education Standards, the emphasis of assessment in the classroom is shifting:

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With this shift in mind, instructors need to adjust assessments to encourage students to focus on relevant educational activities.  It is no secret that students' attention is geared directly toward the assessment measures and not the learning objectives of a course.  Thus, if assessments focus on low level cognitive skills, students will devote their study time toward the shallow memorization of facts and definitions.  In contrast, if assessments require students to demonstrate application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation, students will concentrate their effort on acquiring these skills.  This leaves the instructor with the task of creating and implementing assessments that accurately reflect the target important learning objectives.  Angelo (1999) highlighted that "If learning really matters most, then our assessment practices should help students develop the skills, dispositions, and knowledge needed to:

  • Engage actively - intellectually and emotionally - in their academic work.

  • Set and maintain realistically high, personally meaningful expectations and goals.

  • Provide, receive, and make use of regular, timely, specific feedback.

  • Become explicitly aware of their values, beliefs, preconceptions, and prior learning, and be willing to unlearn when necessary.

  • Work in ways that recognize (and stretch) their present learning styles or preferences and levels of development.

  • Seek and find connections to and real-world applications of what they're learning.

  • Understand and value the criteria, standards, and methods by which they are assessed and evaluated.

  • Work regularly and productively with academic staff.

  • Work regularly and productively with other students.

  • Invest as much engaged time and high-quality effort as possible in academic work."

Resource Links:

Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards

The Relationship between Formative and Summative Assessment: In the Classroom and Beyond

A Primer: Diagnostic, Formative and Summative Assessment

Methods of Assessment

Practicalities of Ongoing Assessment


Aiken, L. R. (2000). Psychological testing and assessment (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Angelo, T. A. (1991). Classroom research: Early lessons from success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Chatterji, M. (2003). Designing and using tools for educational assessment. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Gronlund, N. (2003). Assessment of student achievement. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Huba, M., & Freed, J. (2000). Learner-centered assessments on college campuses: Shifting the focus from teaching to learning. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2002). Meaningful assessment: A manageable and cooperative process. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Marchese, T. J. (1991). TQM reaches the academy. AAHE Bulletin, 44, 3-9.

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