Evaluating student learning
The assessment methods should assist the instructor in answering the questions, “How do I know if the necessary learning has occurred? What aspects of the course might I need to change to best support student learning?” Assessment is a never-ending process of progress, and data collection is an ongoing process of determining what you want the students to be able to know, do, and appreciate, as well as determining ways to see that they’re reaching the desired learning outcomes. Assessment is a constant cycle of improvement. The primary goals of assessments are to provide:
• clear conceptualization of intended student learning outcomes,
• description of how these outcomes are assessed and measured,
• a description of the outcomes of these measures, and
• how these outcomes prove current practices or point to changes required to improve student learning.
As an educator, you need to constantly ask these questions: What do I want students to be able to know, what do I want my students to do and appreciate, and how do I know that my students are achieving the intended learning outcomes?
After implementing the assessment plan and measuring student learning outcomes, you then analyze the results and use the outcome to make necessary changes or improvements to the program of study.
It is imperative to liaise with other educators within your field who understand the purpose and importance of assessment. They may be willing to share their skills, knowledge, expertise, and interest in assessment with you and other faculty members and agree on the important learning outcomes, ways to measure them, what the result means, and what the data suggest for improving the program and students learning experience.
Approaches to measuring student learning
The major approach to measuring student learning outcomes is summative or formative assessments.
• Summative assessments are quizzes, tests, and other graded course activities used to measure student performance. They are cumulative and frequently reveal what students have learned at the end of a unit or course. Summative assessment within a class includes the system for calculating individual student grades.
• Formative assessment – any method of providing students with input and guiding feedback on their relative performance to help them improve. It can be given in person during office hours, in written comments on assignments, via rubrics, and
You can use formative assessments to measure student learning on a daily or ongoing basis. These assessments reveal how and what students learn throughout the course and frequently influence the next steps in teaching and learning. Rather than asking students if they have any questions or understand, you can be more systematic and deliberate by asking them to write the most important points or the most confusing aspect of the lecture on index cards at the end of the teaching period.
Collecting and reviewing the responses reveals which themes students remembered and what your next teaching steps might be. Giving students feedback on these themes allows them to gain insight into their learning.
You can also request that students reflect on and report on their learning. You can have students rate their knowledge of a topic after taking your course versus what they thought they knew before taking your course.
Here are 4 Steps to assessing your students’ learning
Step 1: Clearly define and identify the learning outcomes.
Each program should develop three to five learning outcomes that describe what students should be able to do (abilities), know (knowledge), and value (values and attitudes) after completing the program. For example, a program’s learning outcomes may include the development of public speaking abilities, community engagement, cultural competence, and ethical leadership skills.
Step 2: Choose appropriate assessment tools and evaluate the learning outcomes.
You can assess information about student learning through both direct and indirect measures. Direct measures may include homework, quizzes, exams, reports, essays, research projects, case study analysis, and rubrics (for oral and other performances). Examples of indirect measures include course evaluations, student surveys, course enrollment information, alumni surveys, and graduate school placement rates. Collect these data and report the results in the cumulative form to protect the students’ confidentiality.
Step 3: Analyze the outcomes of the assessments.
Analyzing the data includes determining how to organize, synthesize, interrelate, compare, and present the assessment results. Analyze the assessment results for context, and understanding, to draw conclusions and learn whether or not the criteria for the student learning outcomes were met and to give meaning to the data you gathered. This step provides the information with purpose; it is essential to communicate and utilize the assessment results effectively. Since information can be interpreted in various ways, involving other faculty members in reviewing the results may be insightful. Discussing the data in groups will result in greater understanding, often through different perspectives.
Step 4: Adjust or improve programs based on the results of the assessed learning outcomes.
This step is critical in the evaluation process. The assessment results are worthless if not used. The assessment process has failed if the results do not lead to changes or improvements to the programs or the teaching and learning process. The results of assessments should be widely disseminated to faculty in the department to solicit feedback on how to improve programs based on the assessment results. In some cases, the changes will be minor and straightforward to implement. But in other cases, significant changes will be required and recommended, which may take several years to implement fully.
Remember, as you develop methods for assessing your students, consider including indirect and direct assessments as well as formative and summative assessments. You have to evaluate whether or not the assessment aligns directly with the learning outcome and ensure the measurement is sustainable and reasonable in terms of time and resources, both for the students and for you, the instructor. Then use the results of the assessments to improve the student’s learning goals, your teaching methods and the course or program of study.