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Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Teaching Toolkit

Assessment for Learning

Dr. Shukri Sanber Australian Catholic University June 2011

• What is assessment? • Why do we assess students? • What to assess • Principles of assessment • Assessment issues

We are pleased to make available to the Bethlehem University community this toolkit on “Assessment for Learningâ€?.This toolkit was developed as a result of the training workshops that were conducted in June 2011 at Bethlehem University. Dr. Shukri Sanber, a former faculty member at Bethlehem University and currently an Associate Professor of Education at Australian Catholic University, facilitated these workshops which were attended by BU faculty members and members of the Academic Council. We hope that this toolkit, and the following ones, will be useful resources for both students and teachers at Bethlehem University. This toolkit presents practical ideas on how to use different assessment methods to support the student learning process in order to achieve the learning objectives of a speciďŹ c course. Please feel free to send us your comments on the quality of these resources.Your comments will guide the development of similar toolkits in future projects. Finally, we hope that these resources will inspire interested faculty members to develop new resources that will be championed by the Center to help enrich the culture of sharing and learning that the University aims to encourage on campus. Rabab Tamish

Director Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Bethlehem University - CETL / resources

What is assessment? Assessment is a process that incorporates three components or sub-processes.They are: collection of appropriate data on student performance; • organization of the collected data; and • interpretation of the data •

Thus assessment is not merely an administration of a test at a certain point in the semester; it is a comprehensive process that includes many activities. Data are collected using assessment tasks such as tests, assignments, projects and similar devices. These data are normally used to describe student performance numerically, such as scores and ranks or descriptively. These organized data or information are then interrogated on the basis of pre-determined criteria and are interpreted. The sub-process of interpretation helps to extend the information beyond the measured or observed instances of a student’s performance to assess his or her achievement in the relevant subject or field of study. The design and implementation of assessment tools should reflect the lecturer’s cognition or conceptualisation of student learning. A lecturer’s conceptualisations of how students learn affect his/her choices of teaching and assessment strategies. Lecturers need to be aware of their conceptualisation of how students learn so as to ensure that the subprocesses of data gathering, organisation and interpretation are coordinated.

Why do we assess students? • • • •

To provide feedback to the students To cater for students’ learning needs To improve teaching; To meet university regulations: - Progression - Certification

Thus there are multiple purposes for assessment.We assess students to facilitate student learning through feedback and through catering teaching activities and resources to support their learning. This is what is known as formative assessment or assessment for learning. Formative assessment is intertwined with learning. It can and should occur throughout the learning process. On the other hand, to meet university regulations and to have an overview of student achievement at certain points during the semester, such as mid and end of the semester, we need to assess students to make appropriate judgement on their achievement. This major purpose of assessment is often called summative assessment.


Teaching Toolkit

What to assess It is often more difficult to determine what to assess than how to assess. Assessment should be designed in the first place to reflect the purpose of assessment (formative or summative) and the learning targets. Therefore, planning assessment tasks should be aligned with these learning targets and should go hand in hand with the way lecturers plan their teaching. Learning targets are called learning outcomes or objectives in some systems.They are the end results of the process of teaching and learning. All planned human activities have targets. So lecturers need to identify the learning targets of the learning process that they facilitate.They are the starting points of any course planning. Clear and well thought out learning targets should make teaching, learning, and assessment much easier. Learning outcomes or objectives then refer to the knowledge, understanding and skills a student is expected to achieve within a course of study. To facilitate our discussion in this toolkit we will call these targets learning outcomes, or objectives, if someone prefers the latter term. Any learning outcomes should include: • Specific descriptions of the targets in terms of the relevant content (or what some educators prefer to call content standards); and • Specific descriptions of the levels of achievement that the student is expected to exhibit (or what some educators prefer to call). Sources of learning outcomes • University mission • University goals • Faculty objectives • Discipline learning targets Examples of learning outcomes The following list of learning outcomes is derived from a course on assessment that I facilitate. They all start with the stem: “The student is expected to be able to:” • Appreciate the role of assessment in the processes of learning and teaching. • Construct a variety of classroom assessment tasks to measure a range of targeted learning outcomes. • Interpret students’ assessment data effectively. • Analyze assessment data using a variety of elementary statistical procedures. • Develop positive attitudes in respect to the importance of improving approaches to assessment. • Understand how assessment procedures can contribute to better educational decisions.


Bethlehem University - CETL / resources Historically, there has been a great deal of debate among educators on the most appropriate format for writing learning outcomes. Some educators, for example, Mager (1984) prefer well-specified formats that describe students’ behavior and the conditions under which the performance occur. Others, such as Eisner (1985), prefer open or expressive outcomes. The debate stems from the differences in educators’ cognition of student learning. The decision of the format should be determined at the faculty or department level to ensure consistency among the lecturers.The most important elements that the outcomes should reflect are the content and performance standards. Indicators of student performance Regardless of the format selected for writing the learning outcomes, they should be translated into indicators, which should: Be stated in terms that describe what the student is expected to do. For example, “The student names the major proposition in [a new message]” is an indicator that complies with this condition. This statement describes what the student is expected to do rather than what the lecturer plans or intends to do. • Describe an expected behaviour or a product. The indicator “The student names the major proposition...” describes a behaviour that he or she is expected to perform. In this example, listing of the major proposition in a message is what is new to the student. Thus the listing is an indication of understanding. • Represent the full range of the outcome intended skills. •

Taxonomy of learning outcomes It is advisable to use a well-developed system or taxonomy of learning outcomes. Taxonomies provide a framework to help lecturers generate indicators that represent lower and higher thinking skills. CONGNITVE PROCESSES















Teaching Toolkit Bloom’s Taxonomy is one of the most commonly used taxonomies. It was developed by a team of leading educationalists in the USA (Bloom, et al., 1956) and was revised in 2001 (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Bloom’s Taxonomy was designed to classify objectives that address the three domains of knowledge: cognitive, affective and psychomotor. Its first handbook was dedicated to the classification of objectives in the cognitive domain. The classifications of the other two domains did not meet the same level of consensus and use as that of the cognitive domain. The original Taxonomy hypothesised that cognitive behaviour can be classified based on the difficulty of the targeted tasks into knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Although the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (RBT) maintained the hypothesis that cognitive behaviour may be classified into six levels, several main changes were made including: • • • • •

Incorporation of the knowledge dimension to the classification matrix. The RBT viewed four types of knowledge: factual, conceptual, procedural and metacognitive. The level of “synthesis” was replaced by “create”. “Create” became the highest cognitive level (see the graph above). The “knowledge” level was re-named as “remember”. All nouns were replaced by imperative verbs.

How should the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (or any other taxonomy) be used? Taxonomies provide a framework that would help lecturers generate indicators of student performance. They help lecturers to: •

Ensure that the learning activities and assessment tasks that they plan represent lower and higher order thinking skills. Course learning outcomes are expected to include lower thinking behavior, such as recall of facts, recognition of applicable principles and summarization of given or received messages and similar learning experiences. They are also expected to incorporate higher thinking skills where students are expected to exhibit abilities of processing received information. These abilities may include comparison of observations and events that are directly or indirectly experienced by the students; students’ abilities to make their own generalizations that would be built upon directly or indirectly experienced observations, messages and events; and specifying learnt principles or formulae in new settings. Therefore, assessment tasks should reflect the breadth and depth of the behaviours that are targeted by the outcomes.


Bethlehem University - CETL / resources •

Ensure the implementation of differentiated learning activities and tasks. Although the admission processes that universities apply restrict the range of abilities of enrolled students, courses are more likely to include students that have relatively a wide range of abilities, backgrounds and previous experiences. Effective teaching necessitates the use of a variety of learning activities and assessment tasks. Taxonomies of learning outcomes should be used as tools that would help in the design and implementation of differentiated learning activities.

Develop assessment criteria that would help them collect a wide range of data about their students, describe these data appropriately, and draw valid conclusions. Taxonomies provide appropriate frameworks to help in the construction of appropriate assessment criteria.

Therefore, it is important to understand the principles and assumptions behind the taxonomy of outcomes but without being caught up by the need to distinguish reliably between behaviours across consecutive levels such as apply and analyse as described in the RBT.

Principles of Assessment •

Assessment is a means to an end. Assessment serves learning and teaching and assessment requirements. Students should not be assessed unless lecturers are clear on the purpose of assessment.

Assessment tasks should fairly represent the domain of achievement being assessed. Lecturers need to make relevant decisions based on the assessment data. Thus they need to ensure that the data do represent various aspects of the assessed domains.

Assessment tasks should be relevant to the performance being measured. They need to assess what the students know and can do. They have to represent the lower and higher thinking skills that are targeted in the course.

A variety of assessment strategies and tasks should be used to assess performance.Thus in any course lecturers are supposed to use written tests, assignments, presentations, portfolios and other relevant assessment strategies.

The limitations of assessment should be recognised and accounted for when making educational decisions. Lecturers need to plan for assessment tasks that produce reliable information. Yet, they need to take into consideration that it is not possible to construct and administer tasks that are error free. Lecturers need to be aware of the limitations of the tasks that they use to assess student performance. They need to consider these limitations when they make decisions, particularly summative decisions such as grading.


Teaching Toolkit

Assessment Issues The following are sets of questions that you might like to consider when planning assessment tasks.They represent issues that lecturers need to address and for which they should find their own solutions, which are consistent with their cognition of student learning: • What should I assess? • How can I construct assessment tasks that challenge all my students? • How do I maintain a balance between assessment of lower order thinking skills (LOTS) such as recall of facts or principles and higher order thinking skills (HOTS) such as generalizing and specifying of principles or theories in situations or contexts that are unfamiliar to the students? • How can I construct assessment tasks that are authentic to the learning contexts that I facilitate? • How can I maintain a balance between assessment tasks that require pre-determined solutions (closed tasks) and those that challenge the students to draw upon their own diverse experiences or resources and use their own judgments or solutions (open tasks)? • When I use open tasks, how can I construct them in ways that would minimize the risk of plagiarism (copy and paste phenomenon) and collusion? • How can I ensure that my tasks are fair given the diverse backgrounds of my students? • How can I ensure that the impact of my assessment is positive and provide constructive experiences to my students? • How can I adapt the assessment to student’s needs and ability levels? • How can I keep a balance between control and authenticity in my assessment tasks? • What is meant by workable standards of performance? How can I set such standards? What are the best ways of communicating such standards to my students? • How should I judge the outcomes of my students’ assessment? To what extent am I faithful in my judgment to the principles and regulations of the assessment policy of my university?

References Anderson, L. & Krathwohl, D. (2001) Taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: a revision of Bloom›s Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman. Bloom, B., Engelhart, M, Furst, E., Hill, W., & Krathwohl, D (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals; Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: Longman. Eisner, E. (1985) The art of educational evaluation. London: The Falmer Press Mager, R. (1984) Preparing instructional objectives. (2nd edition). Belmont, CA: David S. Lake.


Assessment for Learning