Assessment Strategies

Once you have articulated the specific learning outcomes for your course, the next big question will be “How can my students demonstrate that they have achieved the outcome(s)?” What type of assessment is pedagogically aligned with the learning goals?

How students are assessed and how they can provide evidence of their learning should be a reflection of how they were taught and how they learned new concepts or gained knowledge. Research and teaching experience support that what and how students learn is informed by how they will be assessed (Biggs, 1999). This means that learners will tend to fixate on the particular content and skills that will help them do well in class.

If assessment is limited to tests or exams, students are likely to attempt to earn good marks by memorizing information that they are unfortunately not likely to retain much of a week later (Mazur, 2015). Therefore, incorporating different types of assessments is important to provide learners with varying opportunities to demonstrate their learning 

Formative assessment, also known as formative feedback or assessment for learning, refers to techniques that help both instructor and students identify and address misconceptions, struggles, and gaps in learning. They are “formative” in that they contribute to the learning process as well as inform adjustments in teaching to align with learners’ progress. Like all assessments, they align with and support the achievement of learning objectives/outcomes.

In addition, they are designed to help prepare students for summative assessment by familiarizing them with the tools of assessment techniques and methods. Consistent formative assessment reinforces a focus on learning as opposed to earning marks, which helps students take ownership of their learning (Trumbull and Lash, 2013).  

Assessment for learning can include instructor and peer feedback as well as student self-assessment. The comparative table below provides examples. Also refer to the Angelo & Cross techniques list of 50 CATs for ideas.  

Finally, formative assessment techniques can also serve to inform your own teaching development through student feedback and support your reflective practice. 

Summative assessment refers to the evaluation of learning, knowledge, skill acquisition, proficiency, and academic achievement at the end of an instructional period, such as the end of unit, project, module, term, program. Summative assessments are often high stakes, formally graded and often heavily weighted (although they do not need to be).  

If students receive only summative assessments, they will miss out on the educational benefits of feedback, and if they receive only formative assessments, their grades may be inflated (Martin, 2023). Both types of assessments are essential to ensure effective learning. Instructors can consider a variety of ways to combine these approaches. 

Alternative or authentic assessments, meaning an “alternative” to standard tests and exams, attempt to capture what students have learned by assessing their application rather than only their acquisition of knowledge (Indiana University, n.d.). Traditional forms of assessment often evaluate a learner’s understanding of a topic and fail to assess deeper learning or higher orders of thinking such as application, evaluation, or creation.

Alternative or authentic assessments, on the other hand, measure a learner’s level of proficiency in a subject by requiring the learner to demonstrate their knowledge and execute tasks in unique and innovative ways. Authentic assessments reflect specific learning contexts, thus, take on different forms based on disciplinary tasks and products (Centre for Educational Innovation, 2024).   

The table below highlights key characteristics with explanations of how alternative assessments differ from traditional assessments.  

For assessment considerations across teaching contexts, including digital assessments, find additional resources by Teaching Modalities.

Traditional Assessment Alternative Assessment What Makes it Authentic
Requires right answer. Requires high-quality performance or product, along with justifications of decisions. Students must be able to think through why they made decisions that resulted in final product.
Questions must be unknown to students in advance. Instructions/ questions/ purpose must be known to student in advance. Tasks that are to be judged should be known ahead of time. Rubrics should be provided.
Disconnected from the real world. Tied to real-world contexts and constraints. Requires student to solve realist problems. Task is similar in nature as to what would be encountered by a real-life practitioner.
Isolations of skills, focus on facts. A range of skills/ knowledge need to be integrated in order to solve a problem. Tasks are multi-step and multi-faceted.
Easily scored. Includes complex tasks for which there may not be a right answer. Meaningful assessment and feedback is emphasized.
“One shot” approach. Iterative in nature. Knowledge and skills are used in more than one way.
Given a score. Opportunity to provide diagnostic feedback. Designed to give practical experience and improve further performance.

Adapted from Indiana University’s Tip Sheet, Authentic Assessment, n.d.

Resource: Best Practices in Alternative Assessments, Ryerson University, Learning & Teaching Office

Rubrics are an assessment tool that use criteria to clearly indicate achievement levels. They are used to provide consistent, objective evaluation of student work.

You might consider using Rubrics if:

  • You find yourself rewriting the same comments on student assignments
  • You have a high marking load (large class size)
  • Students repeatedly challenge or question assignment requirements
  • You want to ensure equitable grading throughout the entire grading activity
  • You have a group of markers or TAs and need to ensure validity and reliability

Creating a Rubric:

  • Decide what essential elements (criteria) must be included in student work
  • Establish levels of achievement
  • Write a description for the quality at each criteria and level
  • Optional: create the rubric interactively with your students

Analytic, Developmental, and Holistic Rubrics with advantages & disadvantages (Teaching Commons)

Rubric Examples for Papers, Projects, Oral Presentations, Class Participation/Contributions (Carnegie Mellon University)

How to create Rubrics in Canvas and add them to assignments & quizzes (Canvas Instructor Guides)