Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning

In 1992, the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) published a document on the principles of good practice related to assessment. In 2005, the AAHE, was disbanded due to lack of funding. For 20 years, the AAHE was a leader in fostering research to discover and promote best practices in higher education.  These principles listed below are originally from the AAHE document, and later developed more fully in Banta, et. al. (1996). They are excerpted and summarized here.

Principle One: The assessment of student learning begins with educational values. Assessment is a vehicle for educational improvement. We use the information we get from assessments to guide our decision-making about educational practices. It enacts a vision of the kinds of learning we want for our students. Educational values should drive what and how we choose to assess. When done well, assessment can become a process to improve what we really care about.

Principle Two: Assessment is most effective when it reflects understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.
Assessments should show actual student performance over time to demonstrate change and growth that have occurred as students integrate what they have learned.

Principle Three: Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.
Clear, shared, implementable goals are the cornerstone for assessment that is focused and useful.

Principle Four: Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.
Assessment can tell us more than just student progress. It can tell us about the teaching, courses, and environment for learning that help students reach particular outcomes.

Principle Five: Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic.
The point is to monitor progress towards specific goals. This may mean tracking of individual students, cohorts of students, collecting examples of student performance over time, or using the same instrument each semester.

Principle Six: Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.
Participation by a wider group such as student affairs educators, learning center staff, librarians, students, alumni, trustees, employers, and administrators can provide a better-informed approach to data collection and results interpretation that ultimately strengthens programs and student learning.

Principle Seven: Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.
Assessment approaches should produce relevant, credible data that is meaningful to the educational decision-making process.

Principle Eight: Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part if a larger set of conditions that promote change.
Assessment’s greatest contribution comes on campuses where the quality of teaching and learning is visibly valued and worked on. The push to improve educational performance is a clear priority of leadership and budgeting supports this improvement process.

Principle Nine: Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and the public.
Accountability is here to stay. The spirit of accountability should be our obligation and commitment to continued program improvement.

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Banta, T.W., Lund, J. P., Black, K.E., & Oblander, F.W. (1996). Assessment in practice: Putting principles to work on college campuses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Assessment Update

Outcomes Assessment: An Introduction

What are outcome assessments (OA) and how are they different from the everyday assessment instruments we use in our courses? To differentiate, switch the focus of the assessment, from what is going to be assessed (focus on content) to what students are going to be able to do as a result of instruction (focus on student performance with measurable, observable, documentable outcomes).

Outcomes assessments usually measure student progress in concrete terms . The purpose of OA is to assess to what degree students are leaving the course, program, or institution with the skills, knowledge, values, and attitudes stated in the objectives. In addition to the data gathered through typical course-level assessments such as exams (standardized as well as departmental), portfolios, projects, and research papers, outcome assessment instruments can also provide data through student surveys, focus groups, or interviews. Capstone courses and exit interviews are often used at the program level.

Accrediting organizations often require outcome assessment measures to be implemented at institutions of higher education in order to document student learning and growth for the purposes of maintaining accountability to stakeholder groups. Read more about Penn State’s assessment initiatives

Read more:
Middle States
NC State
U. of Colorado at Boulder
Montana State University
Best Practices in Outcomes Assessment
U. of Arizona

Classroom Assessment Techniques

Described by Patricia Cross & Thomas Angelo in their 1994 text, Classroom Assessment Techniques, CATs, as they are commonly known, are informal measures used by faculty and students to gauge their learning progress during a course. Simply put, CATs are used to find out what students know so that students can modify their learning strategies and instructors can make more effective instructional decisions.

Classroom assessment is a strategy that directly links teaching with learning.  Bright & Joyner (2004) examined over 250 research studies on the use of CATs.  They found that this type of assessment led to significant learning gains for students.  “When teachers understand what students know and can do, and when teachers use that knowledge to make more effective instructional decisions, the net result will be greater learning for students and a greater sense of satisfaction for teachers.”

Engaging Students
CATs are meant to engage students in their own learning, by giving students regular and timely feedback about:

  • what they should know
  • what they currently know and
  • ways to close the gap

They help students to become partners in the learning process. Typical examples of CATs are the One-Minute Paper, which asks students to briefly summarize the most important points of the lesson, and the Muddiest Point, which asks students to write down one aspect of the lesson that needs further clarification. CATs are usually done anonymously. Faculty take the information and then modify the next day’s lessons accordingly as well as share ideas and further insights on issues that aren’t yet understood.

Read more
Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1994) Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for   college teachers, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Bright, G.W. & Joyner, J.M. Classroom Assessment in Secondary Mathematics; NRC Assessment of Learning Workshop Proceedings of The National Academies, May 16-18, 2004

Technology and Assessment

Using technology to assess student learning can save classroom time, provide additional learning and review opportunities for students, and can save faculty time in managing quiz grading and reporting processes.  The technological tools available now through ANGEL can be powerful allies in measuring, documenting, and managing student progress in courses.

The quiz tool used in conjunction with the new Gradebook in ANGEL provides a way for faculty to create quizzes, offer them to students, and have them graded and entered into the gradebook automatically, saving  an enormous amount of time in low-stakes testing scenarios. The Quiz Question Word Template, offers a way to import test questions from other sources into ANGEL which can then be linked to the gradebook for quick and easy grading and reporting to students.

New features in the Discussion Forum tool allow faculty to design online discussions that require students to post original comments before they can read or respond to other students’ postings. At the same time, discussion postings can be graded and linked directly to the Gradebook.

Drop boxes allow students to upload assignments, get instructor feedback, and re-submit drafts of papers with an intact paper trail.

In determining whether or not to use online graded activities consider the following:

  • How will using the technology influence your workload?
  • What is the technology comfort level of your students?
  • Will the online assessment instrument give you the information you are looking for in terms of student progress?
  • In what ways can you use the online assessments to foster student learning (i.e. practice quizzes, multiple drafts of papers, etc.)
  • How can assessments be used to foster critical thinking skills? – Create effective discussion board questions
  • How can online tools be used to document group progress and achievement as well as provide feedback? – using the Comments feature for all graded items
  • How can you use technology tools to informally assess student satisfaction and progress (polls and surveys)

The gradebook tool, discussion board postings, digital drop boxes, and online assessments provide a way to give students prompt and personal feedback in a timely fashion and they allow you to track student progress over time according to assignment type or overall in the course while at the same time saving considerable amount of time.

Read more
Oblinger, D. (July 2006). Technology and learning: Defining what you want to assess. Educause Learning Initiative. Retrieved October 24, 2006.

Caruso, J. B. (2006). Measuring Student Experiences with Course Management Systems. Educause Center for Applied Research Bulletin. Vol. 2006, Issue 19, September 12, 2006. Retrieved on October 23, 2006

Assessment of Learning Spaces

The EDUCAUSE E-book entitled, Learning Spaces, begins, ” Space – whether physical or virtual – can have an impact on learning. It can bring people together; it can  encourage exploration, collaboration, and discussion. Or space can carry an unspoken message of silence and disconnectedness.”

How do the spaces we teach in and ask our students to learn in impact the way we design instruction and impact the learning outcomes for our students? In planning for future spaces, what can guide our decision making process? What resources can we use to better navigate the design process? The text highlights three important areas for consideration to ensure meaningful educational outcomes for our courses: our changing students, improved informational technologies, and an understanding of the learning process. This article will briefly summarize information from the text on each of these considerations and look at some guidelines for creating new learning spaces that take these factors into account.

Our Changing Students
Today’s learners tend to favor active, participatory, and experiential learning. Students today are highly social in both face-to-face (F2F) and online environments. Instant messaging, MySpace accounts, and cell phones are common venues that students use to stay connected.

Multi-tasking is a skill students are very versed in. Students may well be able to answer e-mail, talk on the cell phone, have an iPod connected to one ear, and  skim a reading all at the same time. For anyone who has attended an online meeting or webinar lately, this idea doesn’t seem so farfetched. In fact, most webinars have a chat space open while the presentation is happening. Participants are often asking follow-up questions and networking around common questions while at the same time looking at broadcasted PowerPoint slides and listening to the speaker. I’m sure that e-mails are being checked (and sometimes instant messages and voicemail) at the same time. So, this multi-tasking environment is already part of our culture.

A significant number of students currently have a confidence level with the web environment, both as users and creators of content. Use of blogs, YouTube, and virtual environments for gaming and socializing (, are just some of the places our students visit frequently to find out information, to meet others, to learn things, and to have fun.

Improved Informational Technologies
The article states that technology is becoming more capable, affordable, and mobile (9.2). Developers are getting better at considering user preferences when developing tools and applications. Technology use should assist the learning process and help us to make learning more visible. Imagine a classroom that is wired so that students can retrieve information as needed, share it with others locally or at a distance, collaborate on projects, create products that evidence their learning, and present it in a multitude of forms, all without leaving the same room.

The Learning Process
Learning can be made meaningful for students when they become active participants in the process. Creating classrooms that allow students to interact with the content, each other, and with the instructor in significant ways will enhance their learning and deepen it.  Allow students to take on different roles in class (listener, critic, mentor, presenter). Give them different modes for social interaction (group work, discussion boards, wikis, blogs, interviews). Incorporate technology that supports your learning goals, but that also mimics what students do in their lives outside the classroom. There are many collaboration tools widely available now that can be used to satisfy the social needs of students in the learning process and that also support your instructional goals. Environments that are able to “provide students with experiences that stimulate the senses, encourage the exchange of information, and offer opportunities for rehearsal, feedback, application, and transfer are most likely to support learning.” (2.4)

Intentionally Created Spaces
Given the changing demographics of our students, the improved technologies at our disposal, and increased awareness of the learning process, what aspects of design should be taken into account as funds are allocated for new learning spaces? Learning spaces should be designed with learning theory and the needs of current students in mind. Some of these elements are:

Flexibility – chairs and tables on wheels allow for the quick rearrangement of space to allow for a diverse set of activities within a class period.

Comfort – provide ample surface area to support student laptops, books, and other materials to be used in class. Take into account differing body types and sizes when ordering furniture. Tablet arm desks are not one size fits all.

Sensory stimulation – humans respond to color, appropriate lighting, ambient sounds, and interesting visual stimulation. These should be taken into account in the design process.

Technology support – technology in classrooms should be seamless, flexible and accessible. Cumbersome and unreliable technology should fall to the wayside as better technologies with more user friendly interfaces are developed. Wireless capabilities and smaller devices will travel with us, making it possible to “hold class” anywhere we find ourselves

De-centeredness – spaces should it make it possible for the co-construction of knowledge, avoiding the impression that there is a “front”  or “privileged” area within the room. Planning schemes should look at the campus as a whole, and find ways to encourage learning in informal as well as formal spaces, such as the area around faculty offices, in the library, living spaces, and in corridor niches.

A recent study by Kuh et. al., found that institutions that did exceptionally well in engaging students in learning, were those that took serious consideration of the design of learning spaces and the physical environment in general. The importance of integrating into learning space design what is known about current students, how people learn, and the kinds of environments that stimulate learning is evident.

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Assessment at Penn State GO

Schreyer Institute Links:
Classroom Assessment Techniques GO

Assessment that Promotes Learning GO

Using Mid-semester Feedback GO

Teaching & Learning with Technology:
Relate Different Levels of Learning Objectives to Assessment GO

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