Ways to think about assessment
Assessment serves the following purposes:
- Formative-Provide information about the teaching and learning process and suggest ways to revise instruction in progress:
- Improve student achievement by giving feedback on student progress;
- Improve the instruction by giving feedback on its effectiveness.
- Summative-Indicate the degree of success in both learning and teaching:
- Evaluate student performance;
- Re-design instructional programs by monitoring student achievement.
Source: Assessment of Information Processes and Products by J. Donham (Follett Software Company,1998)
Often, we tend to focus our attention only on summative assessment-the grade. However, formative assessment aims at improving student performance. By using more formative assessment strategies, we can raise our expectations for students. Formative assessment requires that we treat assessment tools like roadmaps, providing them to students at the beginning of their travels. In this way, students can know better the standard to set for themselves.
Some assessment tools suggested here may also increase our efficiency in the evaluation process. By articulating our expectations in rubrics or checklists, students may be more likely to meet those expectations; this may reduce the frustration and time that we experience when we try to evaluate students' work that has "missed the target" of our assignments. Also, we have a clear guide for the grading process.
- Rubrics. An assessment rubric is an ordered set of criteria that clearly describes for the student and the teacher what the range of acceptable and unacceptable performance looks like. A key feature of a rubric is that is describes in clear language a successful performance. Writing such descriptions can be difficult, but worth the effort if students are better able to perform up to a high standard. A key is writing in descriptive, not evaluative language; words like appropriate, excellent, acceptable are words that label or evaluate, but they do not describe. An example of a rubric is available in the next section.
- Checklist. When there are specific steps to be completed or components to be included, a simple checklist will guide both students and instructor. An example of a checklist is available in the next section.
- Checkpoint. Using something like a small 3" X 5" card at the end of a work session, students can respond to a prompt from the librarian or the instructor to indicate research progress. Useful prompts might be "What did you accomplish during this session?" or "What concerns do you have about your research at this point?" or "What do you need to do next?
- Research Journal. Students engage in metacognition when they step back from their work, periodically, and make journal entries about their progress, their frustrations, and their successes. Prompts like "Write an entry in your journal today about organizing your information" or "Write an entry in your journal today about the problems with searching in the database" give students cues to reflect on what they know about the process and reveal their frustrations; these entries in turn inform the instructor and the librarian about what they need to learn. Such journal entries can quickly be read by the librarian working with the class or by the instructor. Brief responses can offer advice to students or invite them to confer in person for assistance. Sometimes, if one concern is seen repeatedly, a mini-lesson or special session may be scheduled to resolve a common problem.
- I-Search Paper. In the I-Search process, advocated by Macrorie (1988), students report their research as a personal narrative describing not only what information they have found but also how they found it. By explicitly describing their process, students reveal their research strategies and self-assess what did and did not work.
- Brief, Structured Interviews. Conversation is sometimes the best way to determine what students learned about both the research process and the subject being studied. While it may seem that interviews are too time-consuming, if they are structured carefully, they can be completed efficiently. The instructor and the librarian can share responsibility for brief interviews with students at the end of a project involving intensive research. Interview prompts might include:
- Tell me about your project.
- Describe your research process.
- What was hard about doing research?
- How could you tell when you are done with research?
- How could you tell if you have done a good job?
- What did you learn from this research?
- Surveys. End-of-project or end-of-course survey instruments provide an alternative to structured interviews for gathering students' perceptions of their own learning. Posing questions to students about the information literacy instruction or about their research process can provide an opportunity for reflection. In addition, their responses can indicate what they have learned and what they may still need to know.
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Assessment can be carried out by:
- Self. Students take responsibility for making judgments about the quality of their own work. For self-assessment, students need clear criteria. Self-assessment is particularly useful in formative assessment. Rubrics or checklists are examples of tools that aid self-assessment. Self assessment attempts to:
- increase learner autonomy;
- advance understanding of subject;
- elevate the status of student from passive learner to assessor; and
- engage students in critical reflection.
- Peer. Students review and assess the quality of work completed by their classmates. Expectations and criteria must be articulated clearly for peer assessment. Often, modeling the process of assessment based on criteria is necessary if students have had little experience in peer assessment.
To begin a lesson on providing appropriate feedback, explain the concept of peer review and its importance to the discipline. This will help emphasize the reality that academic writing does not exist in a vacuum.
Before the students begin a peer-assessment activity, consider allowing time for them to participate in a self-assessment activity. This will allow them some practice with the technique and also get them thinking about their own work.
Prompts may be developed with students, but here are a few possible starting points:
- What are the strengths of this piece? What in this piece really makes you respond?
- Are there specific areas in this piece that seem confusing? Please describe the place(s) in the piece that seems confusing.
- What strategies might the writer use to work on the confusing places in the text? (Provide an example.)
- What audience does the writer seem to have in mind? What clues signal this to you?
- What question does the writer seem to be trying to answer? What position does the writer seem to be taking on this issue?
- How does this piece answer the question? What support does the writer use to defend her stance on this issue?
- What in the writing signals to you that this piece is an analysis (critique, summary, narrative)?
- What further questions do you have for the writer?
Peer assessment is useful for other research products as well-e.g. Web site design, artistic creations in various media. Relevant prompts will help make the peer assessment productive.
- Expert. Most often, the instructor is the "expert" who assesses students' work, particularly for summative assessment. However, there may be times when other experts can participate in the assessment of students' work, e.g., a librarian with subject area expertise, faculty colleagues, or experts in the field of study. Outside experts are perhaps most frequently called upon for capstone assessments.
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Special Considerations in Assessment.
Assessment is a difficult part of teaching, and some assignments complicate assessment even further. Three examples of complicated assessment situations are group work, oral presentations, and assignments that involve creative work, e.g., web site development. While there is no simple solution to any of these challenges, we can apply what we know about assessment to help us be fair and effective.
Assessing Group Work. As in other assessment situations, providing students with explicit criteria is a first step toward assessing group work. In this case, however, we need to devise a special set of criteria that describe being an effective group participant. One strategy that may supplement the professor's assessment is to use peer assessment wherein each member of a group assesses their group-mates on a set of criteria and those ratings become part of the instructor's consideration for the grade that the group's product receives. Possible criteria to be rated by each group member might include:
Ability to work with the group
- To what extent did the person show willingness to move toward consensus or compromise?
- To what extent did the person stay on task during group meetings?
- How well did the person help ensure that all voices were heard?
- How willingly did the person offer to take on tasks?
- To what extent did the person perform a fair share of the work?
- To what extent did the person strive for high quality in the final product?
- To what extent could the group count on this person to complete work on time?
- How dependable was the person in showing up for group sessions or responding to group communiqués?
- To what extent did the person step up when there was a need?
- To what extend did the person offer meaningful or substantive content to the work of the group?
- To what extent were the contributions of the person relevant to the end product?
Oral Presentations. The accepted practices for oral presentation vary among disciplines. In some fields of study, one is expected to read directly from a paper while in other fields, a presentation is expected to be constructed to communicate information in a rhetorical style different from written text. Given that the disciplinary context is a significant factor, it is important to again specify either in a rubric or a checklist or a model what is expected.
Product Design. Web pages, digital video, posters and other presentation media create additional assessment challenges. For web pages, matters of navigation, cross-browser functionality, layout, image file size for efficient loading, and other elements become important assessment criteria in addition to the content. Similarly, in video products, sound quality, editing, and other technical consideration become important. Again, it becomes important to identify these elements and raise students' awareness of them at the beginning of the project.
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- Donham, J. (1998) Assessment of Information Processes & Products. Professional Development Series. McHenry, IL: Follett Software Company.
- Macrorie K. (1988). The I-Search Process. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Publishing.