Professional Development Module on Assessment

By Diane Starke, El Paso Community College

This self-paced module will acquaint the reader with the key concepts, background information, and techniques of classroom assessment and evaluation. Many of these annotated web sites provide practical applications.

Key Concepts:

Section 1: Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessment refers to assessment tasks that resemble reading and writing in the real world and in school (Hiebert, Valencia & Afflerbach, 1994; Wiggins, 1993). Its aim is to assess many different kinds of literacy abilities in contexts that closely resemble actual situations in which those abilities are used. For example, authentic assessments ask students to read real texts, to write for authentic purposes about meaningful topics, and to participate in authentic literacy tasks such as discussing books, keeping journals, writing letters, and revising a piece of writing until it works for the reader. Both the material and the assessment tasks look as natural as possible. Furthermore, authentic assessment values the thinking behind work, the process, as much as the finished product (Pearson & Valencia, 1987; Wiggins, 1989; Wolf, 1989).

Jon Mueller’s site, Authentic Assessment Toolbox, explains what it is, why educational theorists advocate it, and most importantly, how to practice it!

The Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction site provides links to authentic assessment resources:  questions and answers, articles, performance assessment of critical thinking, and creating rubrics.
The same site discusses the difference between “assessment” and “evaluation” and lists the characteristics of effective assessment.

“Structures for Student Self-Assessment” emphasizes the importance of self-assessment to critical thinking.  The author includes techniques that can be used by students in assessing reading, writing, listening, and speaking.  The article concludes with a Global Self-Assessment, requiring students to do a global analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of their performance in a class.

John P. Lowe at Penn State’s Center for Excellent in Teaching and Learning addresses the problems related to assessment when teaching large classes.  He stresses the importance of choosing assessment strategies that take into account how students learn.  The site provides a sampling of the following assessment strategies:

  • Syllabus and Day 1 Questionnaire
  • Analysis of Performance on the First Exam
  • Second Exam Follow-up
  • Bringing a Daily Problem to the Lecture
  • In-class Problem
  • The Lab Write-up

Section 2: Bloom’s Taxonomy    

The University of Victoria’s website briefly defines and explains Bloom’s work, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals

This resource from the University of Leicester’s CASTLE (Computer-Assisted Teaching Learning) Toolkit defines the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and then applies those levels in the construction of multiple-choice questions.  Examples of test questions are provided.

Section 3:  Classroom Assessment Techniques

Classroom Assessment is a simple method faculty can use to collect feedback, early and often, on how well their students are learning what they are being taught. The purpose of classroom assessment is to provide faculty and students with information and insights needed to improve teaching effectiveness and learning quality. College instructors use feedback gleaned through Classroom Assessment to inform adjustments in their teaching. Faculty also share feedback with students, using it to help them improve their learning strategies and study habits in order to become more independent, successful learners.... Classroom Assessment is one method of inquiry within the framework of Classroom Research, a broader approach to improving teaching and learning."
Angelo, T.A., 1991. Ten easy pieces: Assessing higher learning in four dimensions. In Classroom research: Early lessons from success. New directions in teaching and learning (#46), Summer, 17-31.

Southern Illinois University’s Undergraduate Assessment and Program Review website provides a definition of Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), popularized by authors Angelo and Cross [Angelo, T.A. & Cross, K. P. (1993).  Classroom assessment techniques, a handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.]
This site explores the difference between assessment and grades and the seven principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.  It also contains sample forms for various CATs including Directed Paraphrasing, Goals Ranking and Matching, Muddiest Point, Minute Paper, Self-Assessment, Self-Confidence Survey, and RSQC2.   In addition, it includes the Teaching Goals Inventory, a self-assessment instrument for instructors to use to analyze course goals so that they can select the appropriate CATs for their course.   suggestions for using anonymous assessments.

An overview of Classroom Assessment Techniques is provided along with the characteristics of CATs, assumptions, how to begin, and suggestions for success.

The same site discusses five specific CATs from the Angelo and Cross book with step-by-step procedures for administration:  Background Knowledge Probe, Minute Paper, Muddiest Point, One-Sentence Summary, and What’s the Principle?

The benefits of CATs are described and strategies for use are presented along with descriptions of the Minute Paper, Muddiest Point, and the One-Sentence Summary in this webpage produced by the Center for Support of Teaching and Learning at Syracuse University.

Section 4:  Collecting Feedback That Improves Teaching and Learning

Authors Diane M. Emerson, Kathryn M. Plank, and R. Neill Johnson offer “A Sampler of Effective Practices” for obtaining effective student feedback.  These techniques have been tried and tested in Penn State University classrooms.  The authors have found that feedback instruments are most useful when used early in the semester.  The instruments include the following:

  • Teacher Designed/Scored Questionnaires.  Samples: A Guided Self-analysis for Beginning Instructors, Midsemester Student Feedback Questionnaire, and Student Perceptions of Learning and Teaching (W.J. McKeachie, University of Michigan)
  • Classroom Assessment Techniques.  Samples:  Recommendations for Use, Brief Overview of Techniques, The Minute Paper
  • Machine-Scanned Questionnaires
The same website also offers an in-depth look at this topic in Chapter 5 of The Penn State Teacher II

Section 5: Performance-based Assessment

According to Wiggins (1993), performance assessments are developed to "test" the ability of students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills (what they know and can do) in a variety of "realistic" situations and contexts. Sowell (1996) states that performance assessments can be short or extended open-ended or multiple choice questions. In a more extended definition, performance assessments can be reading or writing, projects, processes, problem solving, analytical tasks, or other tasks which allow the student to demonstrate their ability to meet specified outcomes and goals.
Stiehl, R. & Bessey, B. (1993). The green thumb myth: managing learning in high performance organizations. The Learning Organization. Corvallis, Oregon.

"What is to be made of the distinction between performance and authentic assessments? Fortier (1993) notes that authenticity is always a relative concept and that it is unrealistic to expect that an assessment will be completely authentic. For example, he points out that a driving test, even though most would define it as authentic when compared with a paper and pencil test, can never be completely such because drivers do not ordinarily have a law officer seated next to them while they drive." Excerpt from an excellent article on Performance Assessment that was  prepared by Russ Allen, research consultant in the Wisconsin Education Association Council's Instruction and Professional Development Division. Although targeted at secondary educators, the article offers well-documented practices for developing performance criteria and tasks.

Section 6: Portfolios

A portfolio is a systematic collection of a variety of teacher observations and student products, collected over time, that reflect a student's developmental status and progress made in a particular course or field of study.  Helen Barrett’s website, “Using Technology to Support Alternative Assessment and Electronic Portfolios” provides a fantastic overview—including tutorials and articles—on creating and using standards-based electronic portfolios.

“Self-assessment in Portfolios” describes how students can turn their writing notebooks into portfolios.  The author provides a series of questions for students to answer after each composition.

The Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction links to articles about the use of specific forms of authentic assessment: portfolios, scoring rubrics, webfolios, and the use of portfolios in specific disciplines.

Francine Peterman has developed a great portfolio planning worksheet that walks you step-by-step through the process.

Section 7: Testing and Grading

This website, from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Teaching Resource Center, presents the uses, advantages, disadvantages, and tips for writing the following types of test questions:  true/false, matching, multiple choice, short answer, essay, student portfolios, and performance exams.
Click here for the link.

This site, presented by the University of Oregon’s Teaching Effectiveness Center, addresses the topic: “Writing Multiple Choice Questions that Demand Critical Thinking.”  The author presents important things to consider when designing questions, a discussion of Bloom’s Taxonomy, several practical suggestions, techniques for creating questions, and a bibliography.

The website of the Teaching Support Services center at the University of Guelph in Ontario offers links to resources on:

  • Quizzes, Tests, and Exams
  • Effective Grading
  • Grading Practices

The University of Washington’s Faculty Resource on Grading includes a module by the National Council on Measurement in Education on “Developing a Personal Grading Plan” that walks you through many of the issues involved in determining the fairness and defensibility of your grading plan.

The University of Oklahoma’s Instructional Development Program has a helpful website on test construction.


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