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Assessment of Student Learning

What does good assessment look like?

Before delving into tools and tips for assessing students in an online or networked setting, it is useful to talk about what makes for good assessment practices in general. And we are talking about student assessment here, not program or class assessment. There has been a fair amount of research done on the circumstances under which assessment is most effective. The National Research Council book Knowing what Students Know (NRC, 2001 ) is an excellent resource for good assessment practices.

Here is what other experts have to say about quality assessment.

16 Indicators of Effective Assessment in Higher Education - A checklist for quality in student assessment developed by the Australian Universities Teaching Committee (AUTC).

Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning developed by the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE).

Relations Between Assessment and Class Objectives

It is important to realize that the types of assessment that make sense in a particular class situation have a lot to do with the learning goals for that class. In many cases, educators decide on what content they want to teach and then compose tests on that material with teaching and learning goals removed from the equation. Experts in assessment agree that effective assessment flows from explicit goals (AAHE, AUTC).

Looking at it from the other side, many students use the assessment requirements of a class as guideposts to the true goals of the class. They look at how they will be assessed and what material will be covered in those assessments to derive what the learning objectives really are and decide what study patterns to adopt. This differs dramatically from the way many instructors go about designing their courses, i.e. starting with content and teaching method considerations and seeing assessment as the means to assign grades. (AUTC, 2002)

Did you take the Teaching Goals Inventory (more info) mentioned under Setting Learning Goals? This tool catagorizes the types of things that can be taught in a class into 6 skill clusters: Higher Order Thinking Skills, Basic Academic Success Skills, Discipline-Specific Knowledge and Skills, Liberal Arts and Academic Values, Work and Career Preparation, and Personal Development. It makes sense that these six clusters would each require a different method of assessment. Testing to see if a student knows the definition of a given term (Discipline-Specific Knowledge and Skills) is obviously different than trying to assess a student's ability to apply what has been learned to a new situation (Higher Order Thinking Skills).

It should also be noted that assessment plays a considerable role in effective use of scaffolding as well as efforts to promote academic honesty. Continuous feedback allows students to progress more efficiently through a scaffolded experience, and good assessment practices like requiring multiple drafts of projects make it more difficult for students to plagiarize someone else's material.

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