Assessing Student Learning

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We are in the process of migrating our old assessment toolbox to this Wiki. Please excuse any gaps or broken links.


Learning can occur on one's own. Teaching is an intervention. The teacher's job is to lead students through an obstacle course of activities so that learning (ideally, learning other than what students are likely to pick up on their own) might take place: X + Y = Z

...where X = students' knowledge/skills before the intervention; Y = the educational intervention (class activities, assignments, projects); and Z = students' knowledge/skills after the intervention.

The goal of formal education is the following result: Z > X

Vastly complicating the educational formula is the question: How can one determine, as objectively as possible, the degree to which Z is greater than X? Because of the intervention, how much was learned? How deep was the learning? How lasting? What can students now do that they couldn't do before? To what degree have thinking and reasoning skills been sharpened?

Assessment is one of those terms that causes a lot of contention in academic circles. If learning is defined as a change in knowledge, skill, value, or behavior, then assessment -- or, more specifically, the Assessment of Student Learning, or Classroom Assessment -- is the method by which a teacher can measure learning. According to Angelo and Cross (1993), "Classroom Assessment is an approach designed to help teachers find out what students are learning in the classroom and how well they are learning it" (p. 4). Assessment is something that faculty should embrace, as it is a pedagogical tool that can help them teach more effectively.

This assessment toolbox offers faculty an ever-expanding library of creative, evidence-based techniques for measuring student learning. All techniques in the toolbox are categorized by type (formative or summative), as described below.

Types of Assessment

There are two primary types of assessment: Formative Assessment and Summative Assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is used to help both the teacher and the student see how successful learning is as it is happening. Formative assessment usually takes the form of short assignments or tasks that are tightly focused on a specific piece of learning. Formative assessment can help a teacher decide whether to continue focusing on that specific piece of learning. It can also help the student decide if the student has studied enough.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is probably the more well-known form of assessment. Summative assessment measures learning at the end -- the end of the class or the end of the module or unit. Perhaps the most obvious form of summative assessment is the unit test, which is given to see how well students have learned the content by the end of the unit.

Assessment Toolbox Navigation

Assessing Student Learning | Formative Assessment | Summative Assessment