We spend a fair bit of time in the CTE talking about assessment. Whether it be in workshops, one-on-one consultations about teaching, curriculum meetings, teaching observations, or just in passing conversation among colleagues. In these instances, discussion often focuses on the function of the assessment – is it being used for diagnostic (to ascertain prior knowledge), formative (to provide feedback and improve performance during the learning process), or summative (to evaluate the learner’s knowledge, skills, or values) purposes. Discussion of course revolves around the type of assessment being used, as well as questions regarding grading, but there are aspects of assessment that go beyond this and begin to explore the role of the student in the assessment process.
When thinking about assessment and how we position it in our teaching, it can be helpful to think about it conceptually while considering what purpose we as instructors assign to it. To do so, we might turn to three approaches to assessment: assessment of learning, assessment for learning, and assessment as learning.
Assessment of learning suggests that assessment is being done for the primary purpose of determining what students have learnt in the class; it is typically done in a summative manner so that students can receive a grade.
Assessment for learning views assessment more as a process, whereby students learn from the assessment; feedback is of great importance as it assists the student in the learning process.
Assessment as learning takes this even further, situating the student him- or herself as an assessor and therefore takes greater responsibility in the learning and assessment process.
None of these approaches to assessment are inherently better than the other, but I would encourage you to reflect on your assessments from a different perspective, adapting what I call Advanced Assessment Considerations. These considerations are intended to allow you to reflect and evaluate your assessment during the design, facilitation, and grading & feedback stages. They do not suggest distinct or varied methods of assessment, but rather, attempt to provide options as to how to modify an existing assessment to make it even better. And by better, I mean better for the students – assessment should motivate and empower students to demonstrate what they have learnt, and the more we can have students become invested in the assessment process, the more meaningful it will be to them.
So what are these advanced assessment considerations? I’ll run through each briefly, providing some initial insight into what each consideration entails and leave you with some questions to consider.
Design considerations apply to how the assessment itself is constructed before the students begin to actively work on the assessment. They are intended to provide learners with agency to be contributors to the assessment and determine what their role will be in the assessment.
To incorporate these into our assessments, we should look at things such as:
- Student choice
- Develop student responsibility for learning with controlled options for assessment; students can choose the type of assessment they feel most suits their learning needs, but must reflect on why they chose it/didn’t choose others (Weimer, 2011)
- Low-stakes and high-stakes assessments
- Implement a variety of low-stakes and high-stakes assessments that allow for students to build confidence and motivation and alleviate stress or anxiety; create a culture of routine assessment, and don’t be afraid to allow strategies (such as cheat sheets or open-book resources) to alleviate the stress of high-stakes assessments such as exams; good students do well, and poor students do poorly, regardless of the exam type (Gharib & Phillips, 2013)
Facilitation considerations apply to the process whereby students complete the assessment, and the ways in which the instructor can help manage this process. They are intended to ensure that assessments are structured logistically and rationally so as to promote student learning and alleviate difficulties that are external to the objectives of the assignment.
These can be implemented when considering the process underlying the assessment by thinking about aspects such as:
- Spacing effect
- Ensure sufficient space between assessments so as to continually reinforce understanding before information is forgotten; the repetition of course content and the process of retrieving content as students begin to forget it helps to reinforce and solidify understanding (Cepeda, Pashler, Vul, Wixted & Rohrer, 2006; Kornell, Castel, Eich & Bjork, 2010)
- Testing effect
- Ensure that formative assessment in course matches type of summative assessment; students learn better by testing course content as opposed to simply studying from a textbook, and they learn especially well if testing is accompanied by some form of feedback (Agarwal et al., 2007)
Finally, grading & feedback considerations apply to the means by which feedback is provided and received by students as a means to close the learning cycle. These ensure that sufficient and meaningful feedback is provided to each student multiple times throughout the course, and that the provided feedback is reflected upon by the student.
In some ways, these are most important as they directly encourage the learner to be involved as the assessor to some extent, the degree to which can vary depending on the assessment. To involve the learner in this capacity, consider the following:
- Peer feedback
- Peer feedback allows for rich and meaningful insight that can directly support and scaffold learning (Dochy, Segers & Sluijsmans, 1999)
- Students need the opportunity to examine feedback and determine how to improve through structured means; this can be especially powerful if part of the peer review process (Reinholz, 2015)
- Student-led feedback
- Support individual student development by encouraging reflection on their own learning goals before receiving feedback; have students take ownership of what they want to receive feedback on
- Assessment guideline creation
- Involving students directly in the creation of assessment guidelines can result in sustained motivation; students can create their own rubrics for the assessments they are completing in consultation with the instructor
Ultimately, depending on your assessment, some of these considerations may simply not be applicable, and attempting to adapt many of these to a single assessment may prove equally challenging. I would however encourage you to think about how some of these considerations could find their way into your own assessments to make the experience all the more meaningful to students and instructors alike.
Agarwal, P.K., Karpicke, J.D., Kang, S.H.K., Roediger III, H.L. & McDermott, K.B. (2007). Examining the testing effect with open- and closed-book tests. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 861-876.
Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 354–380.
Dochy F., Segers, M. & Sluijsmans, D. (1999) The use of self-, peer and coassessment in higher education: A review. Studies in Higher Education, 24(3), 331-350.
Gharib, A. & Phillips, W. (2013). Test anxiety, student preferences and performance on different exam types in introductory psychology. International Journal of e-Education, e-Business, e-Management and e-Learning, 3(1), 1-6.
Kornell, N., Castel, A.D., Eich, T.S., & Bjork, R.A. (2010). Spacing as the friend of both memory and induction in young and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 25(2), 498-503.
Reinholz, D. (2015). The assessment cycle: A model for learning through peer assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(2), 37-41, 1-15.
Weimer, M. (2011, June, 21). A rose for student choice in assessment? Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/a-role-for-student-choice-in-assessment/