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Lesson 1: Principles of Student Assessment

Getting started with student assessment

Creating a new course or reviewing a current course can be a great opportunity to reflect on and strengthen your student assessments. Effective, rigorous assessments can be facilitated in any learning environment. This module will guide you through the principles and practices of how to design high quality assessment tasks for your course.

What key terms do you need to know?

Assessment used as part of the teaching and learning process to provide feedback to both the instructor and the learner about progress toward the desired learning outcomes. Information gathered from formative assessment can help instructors plan subsequent learning activities. Ungraded quizzes, one-minute papers, and peer-reviewed rough drafts are examples of strategies that can be used for formative assessment.

Assessment that determines the degree to which students have achieved the articulated learning outcomes. Capstone projects, papers, and final exams are examples of strategies that can be used for summative assessment.

An assessment guide that uses a set of criteria for evaluating an assessment task to create a matrix of descriptions of work at various levels. Effective rubrics can support student self-assessment, greater transparency in grading, and clear feedback to students.

The principles of effective assessment apply across learning environments

Effective assessment is part of course design

Effective assessment is part of a comprehensive course design to support student learning. Assessment strategies should be clearly aligned with the learning outcomes and teaching strategies of the course. Course activities provide opportunities for students to practice the knowledge and skills that will be assessed as well as to check their current understanding. 

Effective assessment reflects the discipline

Effective assessment reflects the actual work of the discipline/field. Authentic assessment involves engaging students in the big questions that your discipline seeks to address and asks students to begin to use their knowledge in ways consistent with the norms of the discipline. For example, law students learn how to do case studies. Biology students learn how to design labs and write lab reports. History students learn to analyze primary sources and write essays. 

Effective assessment practices are fair and transparent

Effective assessment practices are transparent, providing students with clear expectations and communication. Instructors support equitable learning situations when they are explicit about what students are expected to learn, how they are expected to demonstrate their learning, and what criteria are being used to assess their learning. Providing a clear rationale for assessment strategies helps motivate students, and providing clear criteria supports the development of increasingly accurate self-assessment.

Effective assessment includes different types of assessment

An effective assessment strategy includes a variety of types of assessment and includes some degree of student choice. Using a range of assessment strategies allows students to hone their skills of demonstrating their learning in different ways. Offering some choice in assessment topics, tasks or task weights encourages students to take greater ownership of their learning while still focusing on the intended course learning outcomes.

Effective assessments measure what they intend to measure

Effective assessments are intentionally designed to measure something specific. Establishing clear criteria helps graders and students know what to focus on.  For example, if you assign an essay, it is important to clarify if students will be assessed on their ability to identify reliable sources, to synthesize complex information, to use correct grammar and syntax, or all of the above.

Effective assessment is consistent and accurate

Effective assessments measure student learning accurately (from student to student) and consistently over time. Several factors can affect consistency and accuracy. For example, if an assessment is prolonged over a period of time, fatigue can affect how students perform on the assessment. Student stress can also affect test results. An example of this is if an exam has more questions than can reasonably be answered within the given time frame, students may rush through the exam. Another example is consistency in grading. If an exam is graded by more than one person and they have different approaches to grading, it could lower consistency in grading from student to student. This can be mitigated by getting the grading team together to discuss how to grade the exam.

Effective assessment includes constructive feedback

Effective assessment provides timely, specific, and action-oriented feedback. Feedback is most meaningful when it helps students understand how they can strengthen future demonstrations of their learning. Not all assessments need to be formally graded, and not all feedback needs to come from the instructor. Peer- and self-assessment on rough drafts or early demonstrations of learning can be effective if they are based on a common set of criteria or rubric.

Effective assessment promotes academic integrity

Effective assessment strategies promote academic integrity. In addition to designing meaningful assessment tasks with clear criteria and expectations, instructors can clarify the importance and relevance of academic integrity by regularly discussing it with students. For more information on academic integrity in assessment design, see Lesson 6.

Additional resources

The following TI guide builds upon an extensive literature review to present 19 research-informed principles for guiding assessment of student learning in diverse postsecondary contexts.

This document from Charles Darwin University explores core principles of effective assessment and provides a checklist for quality in student assessment.

Lesson checklist

  • Become familiar with key terms 

  • Review the guiding principles for good assessment 

  • Check out additional resources 

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