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Tools of Assessment

  • Case study: Hypothetical or real case assignments invite students to demonstrate how well they have mastered course content in practical, real-world applications. [Details & Summaries]
  • Discussion: When structured and guided properly, classroom discussions can be used to assess student learning. [Details & Summaries]
  • Essay: The essay is one of the best means for assessing higher-level critical thinking, across the disciplines. [Details & Summaries]
  • Exam: Examinations are perhaps the most traditional method for assessing student learning. In-class exams, take-home exams, oral exams...the aim of all these instruments is to gauge knowledge and skills as objectively as possible. A test can only test what it asks about; the thoughtful design of an exam as a whole and of individual questions is, therefore, of paramount importance. Particular attention needs to be paid to the types of knowledge and skills called for. Some questions test merely rote memory; others test higher-order critical thinking skills. [Details & Summaries]
  • Exam analysis: Exam analysis provides a way to use a test not only for its primary purpose of measuring a student's individual learning but for the more general purpose of discovering how a class as a whole is performing in certain skill and knowledge areas. One can designate all or just certain exam questions according to types of skill or knowledge. Then, student performance can be mapped and, if later tests are analyzed in this same way, changes over time can be observed. [Details & Summaries]
  • Faculty evaluation form: The faculty evaluation form that students typically complete at the end of a semester can be used to gauge student perceptions about a class and their learning in it. [Details & Summaries]
  • Field work: Observation of students applying knowledge outside the classroom walls is a good way to measure how well they can practically apply theory. [Details & Summaries]
  • Group project: Projects completed by groups can reveal the extent to which students have grasped knowledge and applied skills-—both cognitive and interpersonal. [Details & Summaries]
  • Homework analysis: The performance of students on homework assignments can be analyzed to learn the extent to which concepts are being grasped and/or skills are being mastered. [Details & Summaries]
  • Informal writing: Free-writing with an emphasis strictly on ideas, not correctness of spelling, punctuation or grammar; provides a means to gauge higher-level critical thinking skills: going beyond the obvious, recognizing multiple perspectives, constructing weighted value judgements, noticing assumptions, and so forth. [Details & Summaries]
  • Interactive computer-assisted instruction: Computer-assisted instruction allows students to learn at their own pace. If designed properly, such programs make learning stimulating and fun. [Details & Summaries]
  • Interview: Interviews can be conducted by the teacher to gauge what a student knows and can do with that knowledge; i.e., an oral examination; or by a third party, usually a fellow teacher, can interview students to provide attitudinal data that can be valuable to answering questions about teaching or learning in specific contexts. [Details & Summaries]
  • Online writing (discussion boards, emails, blogs): Sharing writing electronically via computer is a powerful tool for collaboration, problem-solving, analysis, and discovery. The resulting discussions and dialogues can be studied to measure various types of learning. As with exams, it is important to set up and moderate the online writing experience in a way that direct students to apply the kinds of knolwedge and skills one wants to assess. [Details & Summaries]
  • Oral presentation: Observing and evaluating student presentations, especially with a well-designed rubric, is a time-tested method for assessing learning, both theoretical and practical. [Details & Summaries]
  • Peer observation: Inviting an outside observer into one's classroom or lab is a good way to perceive classroom interactions and behaviors that either add to or hinder learning--interactions and behaviors that the instructor would otherwise miss from his or her vantage point. This method is best used if the observer is given specific instructions of what to look for or to tally: behaviors that impact the learning studied. A rubric or checklist is helpful here. [Details & Summaries]
  • Peer review: Inviting a colleague to review student work with particular assessment goals in mind is a good way to move beyond the teacher's perspective. This is especially effective when the peer reviewer has a clear understanding of what the teacher is trying to do and of the types of student outcomes he or she is trying to gauge. [Details & Summaries]
  • Questionnaire: This method allows one to measure subjective changes in perception or attitude that impact learning. [Details & Summaries]
  • Quiz: Shorter and with less points at stake than in an examination, quizzes provide useful snapshots into what students have and have not learned. [Details & Summaries]
  • Quiz: cumulative learning: A quiz (or a section of a quiz) devoted to concepts covered in earlier weeks is a way to measure how well and how deeply concepts "stick" over time. [Details & Summaries]
  • Reflective writing: journals/special assignments: Reflective writing provides a means by which students (and teachers) can organize their learning experiences in narrative form, recording insights to benefit their own understanding and to facilitate its assessment. [Details & Summaries]
  • Sampling of student work: Providing representative samples of student work on a particular test or task is a good way to get a handle on an array of questions. Where do most students fall in a grid of "high," "middle," and "low" on the particular skill or knowledge? Is it a bell curve or a quite different shape that might be rife with significance? [Details & Summaries]
  • Special assignment: extra-credit writing: Short writing assignments can be designed to gauge certain aspects of student learning, the "carrot" being a chance to earn extra points. [Details & Summaries]
  • Special assignment: other than writing: A special assignment, given to students outside of the normal workload of a course, provides a way to derive strategic feedback on what they know and what they can do. [Details & Summaries]
  • Videotape: Recording classroom interactions or student performance on video provides a wealth of information that can be analyzed by the instructor alone, by the student, by an outside consultant, or by any combination of the above. [Details & Summaries]

See also: Assessment Toolbox


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