ERIC Identifier: ED432938
Publication Date: 1999-00-00
Author: Brookhart, Susan M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Higher Education Washington DC.| BBB32577 _ George Washington Univ. Washington
DC. Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment: The Missing Part
of Pedagogy. ERIC Digest.
How does an instructor know whether students are learning what the instructor
is trying to teach them? How do students find out how they are doing, and can
they use that information to study more effectively? Would students be able to
tell what the instructor thinks is important for them to learn by looking at the
assignments that "count" in a course? Good assessment yields good information
about the results of instruction; it is itself a necessary component of good
instruction. Students who do not understand what they are aiming to know and how
they will be expected to demonstrate their achievements will not be able to
participate fully in managing their own learning. Sound assessment and grading
practices help teachers improve their own instruction, improve students'
motivation, focus students' effort, and increase students' achievement.
"Assessment" means to gather and interpret information about students'
achievement, and "achievement" means the level of attainment of learning goals
of college courses. Assessing students' achievement is generally accomplished
through tests, classroom and take-home assignments, and assigned projects.
Strictly speaking, "assessment" refers to assignments and tasks that provide
information, and "evaluation" refers to judgments based on that information.
WHY IS CLASSROOM ASSESSMENT OF STUDENTS' ACHIEVEMENT IMPORTANT?
Students should be able to tell what the
instructor thinks is important for them to learn by looking at a course's tests,
projects, and other assignments. These assessments are an instructor's way of
gathering information about what students have learned, and they can then use
them to make important decisions--about students' grades, the content of future
lessons, the revision of the structure or content of a course or program. Thus,
it is important that student assessments in higher education classes give
HOW CAN AN INSTRUCTOR ENSURE THE QUALITY OF INFORMATION FROM CLASSROOM ASSESSMENTS?
Information from classroom
assessments--grades, scores, and judgments about students' work resulting from
tests, assignments, projects, and other work--must be meaningful and accurate
(that is, valid and reliable). The results of assessment should be indicators of
the particular learning goals for the course, measuring those goals in
proportion to their emphasis in the course. An instructor should be confident
that students' scores accurately represent their level of achievement. "The Art
and Science of Classroom Assessment" describes five different kinds of learning
goals or "achievement targets": knowledge of facts and concepts (recall);
thinking, reasoning, and problem solving using one's knowledge; skill in
procedures or processes, such as using a microscope; constructing projects,
reports, artwork, or other products; and dispositions, such as appreciating the
importance of a discipline. Different methods of assessment are better suited
for measuring different kinds of achievement.
WHAT METHODS OF ASSESSMENT ARE PARTICULARLY SUITED TO VARIOUS ACHIEVEMENT TARGETS, AND HOW ARE THEY CONSTRUCTED, ADMINISTERED, AND SCORED?
Four basic methods of assessment are presented:
paper-and-pencil tests, performance assessments, oral questions, and portfolios.
Paper-and-pencil tests are the most commonly used form of assessment in higher
education. Performance assessments are tasks and associated scoring schemes
("rubrics") that require students to make or do something whose quality can be
observed and judged. Oral questions are commonly asked in the context of
classroom discussions, more often in smaller seminar-style classes than in large
lecture sections. Portfolios are collections of students' work over time,
according to some purpose and guiding principles; they usually include students'
reflection on the work. "The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment" provides
suggestions about writing good tests, performance tasks, oral questions, and
portfolio specifications, and about constructing scoring schemes that examine
performance according to learning goals. Two kinds of scoring--objective,
requiring a right/wrong or yes/no decision, and subjective, requiring judgments
of quality along a continuum--and principles for devising scoring schemes and
examples are described.
HOW CAN THE RESULTS OF SEVERAL ASSESSMENTS BE MEANINGFULLY COMBINED INTO ONE COMPOSITE GRADE?
Grading usually requires constructing
one score or judgment from several scores on various assignments and tests. The
combination must be valid and appropriately weight the scores of various
components according to their places in the instructor's intentions for the
course. A set of good assessments can be rendered into an invalid grade if the
individual scores are not carefully combined. Four methods of determining final
grades serve different grading purposes an instructor might intend, depending on
the course: the median method, weighted letter grades, total possible points,
and holistic rating.
The topic of grading is found in the higher education literature, largely
under discussions or studies of "grade inflation." A review of the recent
literature on grade inflation may yield some surprises for readers. Although
grade inflation is a concern at the present time, previously during this century
writers expressed some concern about grade deflation. Several authors have
raised related issues that suggest the topic is more multifaceted than the
straight-line function the term "inflation" implies: issues about the nature of
education, differences in grades among the disciplines, and the noncomparability
of grades in different historical periods.
IN WHAT AREAS MIGHT FACULTY IMPROVE THEIR ASSESSMENT SKILLS, AND WHAT RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE TO HELP?
Assessment of students' work in
higher education classrooms is important--and important to do well. One science
professor has been heard to comment that professors sometimes measure the
specimens in their labs more accurately than they measure the students in their
classrooms, yet important human consequences follow from both. Faculty members
who wish to improve their skills in assessment can find some good resources
already available, some of the best of which are recent books and articles, and
easily obtained materials on the Internet. The Art and Science of Classroom
Assessment summarizes some of what the author thinks are the best "next step" resources for readers.
WHAT CONCLUSIONS CAN BE DRAWN FROM THE REVIEW OF THE
The literature on principles of classroom assessment has been
written mostly for K-12 education. The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment
uses examples and discusses assessment contexts relevant to college courses and
young (and not-so-young) adult students. Empirical studies of classroom
assessment in higher education underscore the importance of instructors'
fairness, clarity in tests, assignments, and scoring, and clear descriptions of
the achievement target or learning goal in higher education classrooms. More
studies are needed that investigate the needs, types, results, and effectiveness
of assessment in higher education and that tie the findings to theories about
adult learners. Some excellent resources presently exist for helping instructors
design and conduct valid, reliable, fair, and interesting assessments of
students' work--a crucial function in higher education classrooms. References
Crannell, A. (1994). How to grade 300 mathematical essays and survive to tell
the tale. PRIMUS, 4(3), 193-204.
McClymer, J. F., & Knoles, L. Z. (1992). Ersatz learning, inauthentic
testing. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 3, 33-50.
Nitko, A. J. (1996). Educational assessment of students (2nd ed.). Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Merrill.
Ory, J., & Ryan, K. (1993). Tips for improving testing and grading.
Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Rodabaugh, R. C., & Kravitz, D. A. (1994). Effects of procedural fairness
on student judgments of professors. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching,
Walvoord, B. E., & Anderson, V. J. (1998). Effective grading: A tool for
learning and assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
This ERIC digest is based on a full-length report in the ASHE-ERIC Higher
Education Report series, 27-1, The Art and Science of Classroom Assessment: The
Missing Part of Pedagogy by Susan M. Brookhart.