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Assessing Learning

What are Assessing Learning strategies?

Assessment is a way of measuring disciplinary concept retention, comprehension, and application. Assessment is often conflated with quizzes, tests, and exams, but assessment refers to any activity in which you can assess how a student demonstrates knowledge and understanding of course content. Assessments can be formal, informal, rote, authentic, high-stakes, low-stakes, anonymous, public, individual or collective, with the purpose of the assessment driving its characteristics. For example, in our Perdue School, there is a MASMI competition that is a public event that offers students an authentic experience with real-time feedback; while individual classrooms use clickers for informal, anonymous, collective knowledge checks to see where the class is, holistically, in their understanding.

Pairing with these various assessment strategies is the grading strategies associated with each assessment activity. Most common is the point-based assessment strategy where each activity and assignment has a point value associated with it. However, even the requirements to earn points can vary (such as completion points versus evaluative points).  

Despite your assessment and grading approaches, a consistently important element in assessment is the importance of timely, informative feedback. The assessment activity was for a purpose, right? So how does the information that both you and the student gain from that experience impact how that learning experience is used to support the student's disciplinary comprehension?

Why is it beneficial?

A common misconception is that assessment and grading are primarily meant to assign a score to a student's performance in the class - to indicate where they stand in performance against their peers. In its most reductive state, that may how assessment is used; however, that is not how it should be used. Assessing learning allows faculty to gauge how a student is comprehending and making meaning as they engage in coursework; this allows faculty to determine areas of disciplinary scaffolding that students need to support in understanding the material. It is equally a measure of how well the course material is presented for students to connect with (map to existing knowledge), scaffold from, and interpret. Furthermore, when assessment considers concepts of fairness, flexibility, validity, and reliability, the assessment becomes a tool to help students understand where they are having trouble connecting to disciplinary concepts; assessment becomes a tool for growth, rather than a reductive rating of success centered in deficit structures.

What are the challenges?

A common challenge in education is to break free of deficit-oriented thinking (because traditionally, assessment has been implemented in such a way), which simplifies assessment as a tool to measure student learning! Learning is an invisible process that does not necessarily align with a person's test-taking acumen. Developing, delivering, and grading quality assessments that are intended to be used as a tool to identify areas where students need support in understanding disciplinary concepts may require time and experimentation. You may need to pilot different ways of allowing students to demonstrate their understanding of concepts. 

How can this be implemented?

You can start by considering different types of assessment and grading strategies. Review the following articles for more information: