Q: I keep on hearing about assessment. Assessment as in a test, assessment as in learning outcomes, assessment as in course assessment, assessment as in program assessment. What’s up?
A: The term, “assessment,” when commonly used at the college refers to a midterm or final exam, or another assignment designed to test for student acquisition of foundational knowledge or ability to clinically reason. In this sense, “assessment” serves as another word for examination.
Assessment can also refer to a plan or structure established for constant course and program improvement, and a way to ensure a college is collectively doing what it says it does — that students learn what we say they will during their time with us.
Because examinations are designed to test student knowledge, it would seem reasonable to equate the exam with learning outcomes achievement. This assumes that questions on examinations are aligned (directly related to) stated outcomes for a lecture or course or program.
“There is often confusion over the difference between grades and learning assessment, with some believing that they are totally unrelated and others thinking they are one and the same. The truth is, it depends. Grades are often based on more than learning outcomes. Instructors’ grading criteria often include behaviors or activities that are not measures of learning outcomes, such as attendance, participation, improvement, or effort. Although these may be correlated with learning outcomes, and can be valued aspects of the course, typically they are not measures of learning outcomes themselves.
“However, assessment of learning can and should rely on or relate to grades, and so far as they do, grades can be a major source of data for assessment.” (http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/howto/basics/grading-assessment.html#scoringparticipation)
When deciding on what kind of assessment activities to use, it is helpful to keep in mind the following questions:
- What will the student’s work on the activity (multiple choice answers, essays, project, presentation, etc.) say about their level of competence on the targeted learning objectives?
- How will the instructor’s assessment of their work help guide students’ practice and improve the quality of their work?
- How will the assessment outcomes for the class guide teaching practice?