Assessing, Testing, and Evaluating: Grading is Not the Most Important Function

1. What students learn depends as much on your tests and methods of assessment as on  your teaching, maybe even more. What is measured is often what ends up being valued, so be sure your measures reflect what you want students to learn.

2. Don’t think of tests simply as a means for assigning grades. Tests should facilitate learning for you as well as for your students.

3. Use some nongraded tests and assessments that provide feedback to the students and you.

4. Check your assessment methods against your goals.

5. Some goals (values, motivation, attitudes, some skills) may not be measurable by conventional tests.

6. Assessment is not synonymous with testing. You can assess students’ learning with classroom and out-of-class activities, what the experts refer to as embedded assessment.

7. After the course is over, students will not be able to depend on you to assess the quality of their learning.

8. Don’t rely on one or two tests to determine grades. Varied assessments will give you better evidence to determine an appropriate grade. This is what experts call triangulation of data, which means seeing it from multiple perspectives.

9. Assessments can be learning experiences for students.

Planning Methods of Assessment

The first step in assessment of learning is to list your goals and objectives for the course. Once you have specified objectives, you can determine which kind of assessment is appropriate for each objective. The grid helps you see gaps or overlaps so you can adjust the system as you create the syllabus or assignments. You can often frame assessments as learning activities rather than tests.

Methods of Assessing Learning

Tests: In and Out of Class
Questions demanding understanding rather than memory of detailed facts resulted in differing styles of studying for later tests and better retention. In-class quizzes are good to find out if students understand the basics before moving on to bigger issues.

Journals are particularly useful in helping students develop critical reflection and self-awareness. Evaluating these using a rubric – this is basically a carefully laid out analysis of the key characteristics of the assignment and how well the student met your expectations for each of them.

Portfolios are good for showing a student’s progress.

Peer Assessment – Some instructors have developed computer-based peer reviewing systems (called “calibrated peer review”) that involve students grading other students’ work online using a carefully refined rubric given by the instructor.

Assessing Group Work – You might be assessing student learning in the form of papers or products produced by the group or by members of the group. Or you might be assessing the way in which students worked together in the group, focusing on group process and teamwork more than on content learning. Students can assess each other privately by dividing 100 points in proportion to each member’s contribution. Another strategy is to ask group members to simply describe the work contributed by other members without assessing its value. This allows them to be nonjudgmental, and descriptions can be compared to get a more accurate picture of what each individual contributed.

Embedded Assessment – These are opportunities to assess student progress and performance by integrating them into the instructional materials and ar virtually indistinguishable from the everyday classroom activities. Good example: have students apply ideas discussed in classroom on an in-class activity sheet.

Classroom Assessment – popularized by Pat Cross and Tom Angelo to describe a variety of non-graded methods of getting feedback on student learning.


1. Learning is more important than grading.

2. Tests and other assessments should be learning experiences as well as evaluation devices.

3. Providing feedback is more important than assigning a grade. You can use nongraded evaluation as well as evaluation for assigning grades.

4. Try to assess the attainment of all your objectives, even if some objectives (such as increased motivation for learning) are not appropriate criteria for grades.

5. Avoid evaluation devices that increase anxiety and competition.