Teaching Handbook

Assessment Goals and Methods

Relevant Books

Why Assessment?

Research suggests that students not only show greater success in meeting learning objectives but are also more motivated and engaged when instructors make effective use of assessment tools. 2,3,6,7 Early assessment can help faculty identify learners' prior knowledge, skill, background and even misunderstandings about course material to better tailor instruction to students' needs. Frequent, ongoing formative assessment helps both students and faculty track progress toward learning outcomes, allowing them both to make intentional and informed adjustments to better ensure that learning objectives will be met. Summative assessment at the end of a course reports on the quality of learning a student has demonstrated. Whether used formatively or summatively, assessment can be seen as evidence in making claims about a students' progress toward course objectives.

Assessment Options

Traditionally, students were evaluated using exams and essays as primary methods of assessment. However, assessment can take a great variety of forms, both summatively and formatively.4,5 This section of the handbook provides examples of many different options for both formative and summative assessment, along with tips and resources for developing and implementing assessment tools effectively.

In designing assessment, it is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the tools or methods you plan to use.1 High-quality assessments typically share common characteristics3, including:

  • Constructive, Clear and Specific: Assessment tools, and the feedback they provide to students, should clearly articulate expectations and describe specifically how/why those expectations are or are not being met. The more clear and specific the feedback, the more motivated students will be and the more likely it is that they will understand how to meet learning objectives.6, Rubrics and written feedback, as opposed to numerical scores or letter grades without explanation, are more helpful to students.7
  • Valid and Reliable: It is important that assessment tools accurately measure what they claim to measure. In writing test questions and assignment prompts, make use of effective questions to elicit responses that will truly represent learning.
  • Frequent and Timely: Formative assessment in particular is most effective when it is part of a recursive, course-long strategy. Rather than single or isolated snapshots, feedback should be part of an overall instructional approach that involves frequent assessment with timely responsive feedback that can be used by both students and faculty in making corrective adjustments to the learning process.3,4

For a detailed overviews of various forms of assessment, see the Assessment Strategies page in this Teaching Handbook and the rest of the pages in this Evaluation Of Learning section.


More Resources:

See also:

  • Tools and Techniques for Program Improvement, created by Richard Fry, WWU