Five Principles of Assessment You Can Put into Practice This Fall

Key take-aways and strategies for putting assessment principles into practice

Ashley Weleschuk, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

July 25, 2018

More than 30 delegates took part in the Principles of Assessment in Practice session at the 2018 Conference on Postsecondary Learning and Teaching. There was a great mix of people in the room from all across Canada, ranging from undergraduate students to postsecondary instructors. Many different fields were represented, including chemistry, education, health science, visual arts, and entrepreneurship. Even one of our keynote presenters was there! This diverse group allowed for some great conversations.

Given our focus on the conference we decided to focus this discussion on five specific principles:

  1. Using assessment to promote self-regulation and academic integrity

  2. Fostering motivation and confidence through assessment

  3. Using a variety of assessment methods to allow for some student choice in how they are assessed

  4. Using a “feed-forward” approach to give student feedback in action-oriented, future-focused ways

  5. Making assessment expectations transparent so that students understand how, why, and on what they are being assessed

Assessment strategies

Participants formed groups and discussed what kinds of assessment strategies aligned with specific assessment principles. They were also encouraged to address both the benefits and challenges associated with the strategies. The room was bursting with energy, engagement, and excitement. By the end of the session, there were paper sheets filled with long lists of possible assessment techniques that brought these principles into practice. A few notable strategies include:

  • Weekly reflection activities to help develop student metacognition and self-assessment abilities
  • Incorporating current news and events into assignments to show the relevance of course material
  • Using student exemplars to clearly demonstrate the expectations for an assignment
  • Giving open-ended research projects to allow students to choose topics they care about
  • Using improvement-based grading methods to reduce anxiety (E.g. Replacing a student’s grade on the first exam if they do better on the second exam)

Key take-aways for putting assessment principles into practice

Many of the discussions had similar conclusions, despite focusing on different principles.

  • Transparency is key, no matter what type of assessment is being used. Students should know how and why they are being assessed. The choice of assessment method should also be explained, especially if it is new to the students. This can reduce some of their anxiety and promote better interest and understanding. Universal Design for Learning incorporates a lot of transparency for students.
  • Rubrics should outline expectations clearly and with sufficient detail, but they should not feel restrictive. There should be enough flexibility to assess qualities that vary between each student’s works. A balanced rubric can develop over time and in partnership with students’ feedback and input. 
  • Peer-assessment is an untapped resource in many courses. It comes with some difficulties, but if it is implemented thoughtfully with appropriate guidance for students, it can become an effective assessment tool across disciplines. Peer assessment can be applied in many types of courses, including first-year undergraduate and high-level graduate courses.
  • Teaching assistants (TAs) can help remove some barriers that instructors face when trying more learner-centered assessment techniques. There should be new opportunities for TA training to ensure that TAs have the tools they need to become partners in the assessment process. By utilizing TAs to a greater extent, instructors can create more opportunities for personalized student feedback, even in larger classes. TA training has already been incredibly helpful in first-year physics courses.
  • Students have different sources of motivations. Some students thrive in situations that are a source of stress for others. These varying needs can often be met by offering choices for students, and inviting them to participate in the course design process. 

This is just a snapshot of the impactful and exciting session we held. As participants left the session, they were continuing their conversations and exchanging emails. Some great new learning partnerships were formed. I want to thank all of the participants for helping create such a successful session and being so active and engaged. I am so excited to see more examples of these principles in action across campus and beyond.

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