Purpose of Assessment

Assessment drives instruction
A pre-test or needs assessment informs instructors what students know and do not know at the outset, setting the direction of a course.  If done well, the information garnered will highlight the gap between existing knowledge and a desired outcome.  Accomplished instructors find out what students already know, and use the prior knowledge as a stepping off place to develop new understanding.  The same is true for data obtained through assessment done during instruction.  By checking in with students throughout instruction, outstanding instructors constantly revise and refine their teaching to meet the diverse needs of students.

Assessment drives learning
What and how students learn depends to a major extent on how they think they will be assessed.  Assessment practices must send the right signals to students about what to study, how to study, and the relative time to spend on concepts and skills in a course. Accomplished faculty communicate clearly what students need to know and be able to do, both through a clearly articulated syllabus, and by choosing assessments carefully in order to direct student energies. High expectations for learning result in students who rise to the occasion.

Assessment informs students of their progress
Effective assessment provides students with a sense of what they know and don’t know about a subject.  If done well, the feedback provided to students will indicate to them how to improve their performance.  Assessments must clearly match the content, the nature of thinking, and the skills taught in a class.  Through feedback from instructors, students become aware of their strengths and challenges with respect to course learning outcomes.  Assessment done well should not be a surprise to students.

Assessment informs teaching practice
Reflection on student accomplishments offers instructors insights on the effectiveness of their teaching strategies.  By systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence we can determine how well student learning matches our outcomes / expectations for a lesson, unit or course.  The knowledge from feedback indicates to the instructor how to improve instruction, where to strengthen teaching, and what areas are well understood and therefore may be cut back in future courses.

Role of grading in assessment
Grades should be a reflection of what a student has learned as defined in the student learning outcomes. They should be based on direct evidence of student learning as measured on tests, papers, projects, and presentations, etc.  Grades often fail to tell us clearly about “large learning” such as critical thinking skills, problem solving abilities, communication skills (oral, written and listening), social skills, and emotional management skills.

When student learning outcomes are not met
Accomplished faculty focus on the data coming out of the assessments they complete before, during and at the end of a course, and determine the degree to which student learning outcomes are or are not met.  If students are off course early on, a redirecting, reteaching of a topic, referral to student learning centers, or review sessions by the instructor may remediate the problem.  Through careful analysis it is possible to determine the challenges and weaknesses of instruction in order to support student learning better.  Some topics or concepts are notoriously difficult, and there may be a better approach to use.  Perhaps a model, simulation, experiment, example or illustration will clarify the concept for students.  Perhaps spending a bit more time, or going over a topic in another way will make a difference.  If the problem is noticed late in the course, an instructor may plan to make any instructional changes for the next time the course is taught, but it is helpful to make a note of the changes needed at the time so that the realization is not lost.