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Assessment 101

What is Assessment?

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. It is important to consider the following principles when creating and implementing assessments:

  • Fairness
  • Flexibility
  • Validity
  • Reliability

Why is it beneficial?

Assessment at the beginning of the course is useful for activation prior knowledge, or helping students recognize the fundamentals of the course and, particularly if pre-requisites are required, what important concepts or theories they should already be familiar with as a disciplinary foundation. At the beginning of the course, assessment are often lower-stakes, forms of "knowledge-checking" for students to help them see what fundamental concepts they recognize, remember, and potentially need to brush up on, and for you, as the instructor to get a sense of where the class, generally speaking, is in terms of disciplinary foundations. This provides you the opportunity to (a) provide the class with resources to help them catch-up in class (a fundamentals guide/worksheet, pre-recorded videos on important concepts they can review to refresh their understanding of the concept) and to potentially identify students that might need additional scaffolding, support, or more frequent communication at the beginning of the course to support them in the disciplinary scaffolding throughout the semester. 

Assessment during the course helps both the student, and you as the instructor, continue to determine how they are retaining, comprehending, and applying the disciplinary concepts from class to activities/assessments that you provide for them throughout the semester. This helps to track the scaffolding, or knowledge-building that student are constructing throughout the course to meet your course objectives by the conclusion of your course.

End-of-course assessments can help both you and your students determine if they have successfully met the learning goals (course objectives) that you set forth in your syllabus at the end of the semester. Your course design (content, activities, assessments) should align to support students in successful achievement of course objectives. (To learn more about strategies for aligning your course to support student learning, review our Backward Design Learning Objectives and Alignment article).

What are the challenges?

Challenges in assessment are often driven by a lack of student engagement, as well as by the structure and content of the assessment.

Students may not engage with the assessment if they do not understand how it is either (a) connecting to course concepts and/or (b) asking them to memorize and select multiple-choice answers. Additionally, forced response assessments (true/false, multiple choice, multiple selection question types) require a memorization of facts rather than a working knowledge of the concept and how to it apply their disciplinary understanding of that topic. Issues often arise when students have to transition from lower-stakes forced-response assessment to essay assessments, where the forced-response assessments did not prepare them for the essay assessments where they have to apply their knowledge. This may lead to strong forced-response assessment scores (for those who are good at memorization) and poorer essay scores (as those same students have difficulty explaining and talking about the facts).

Additionally, if the assessment does not align with the coursework, you have had students complete, then there may be disconnect issues between the course content and what is being assessed. For example, if your course is about public-speaking and giving speeches, an essay would not help students learn how to effectively present or give a speech in front of an audience. However, a series of activities/assessments that 

How can this be implemented?

You can think about assessments in different ways, such as:

  • Rethink your assessments holistically to determine what assessment types work best for your discipline (Remember: assessment is often conflated with quizzes/tests/exams, but assessment is any opportunity to measuring disciplinary concept retention, comprehension, and application.).
  • Review your course alignment to ensure you are assessing what you teach.
  • Consider where and how you can develop engaging authentic assessments.
  • Enhance test security for assessments that require a forced response assessment type. (Some tests need to be forced-response to help students practice for workplace certification tests).