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EDU Support Blackboard Instructor Assignments, Assessments & Exams How to assess your students' learning? Design your assessment

Design your assessment

Are you (re-)designing your course and considering how you can best assess your students’ learning? It is not hard to think of various assessment methods, but how do you ensure that the one you pick is of highest possible quality and appropriate for your course’s learning outcomes? The page that follows will discuss a test grid--a simple tool that can help you make this determination. 

That being said, it is important to first consider two more fundamental questions: first, why - as in for what purpose - are you assessing your students in the first place, and second, what do you want to assess? 


Why assess?

Try to determine why you are assessing your students: What are you hoping to achieve? One distinction that can be helpful in this regard concerns assessment of (summative) and for (formative) learning.

Assessment of learning (summative assessment). Its goal is to evaluate how well students have learned what they were supposed to learn. Because of this, it is generally presented at the conclusion of a learning period (e.g. at the end of a programme, course, or – in the case of mid-term exams – after the first half of a course has concluded). Examples include oral and written exams as well as final written projects and presentations.

Assessment for learning (formative assessment). Its goal is to give both teachers and students insight into the progress the students are making. It allows them to identify learning and knowledge gaps, and thus to develop ways to close these gaps. Because of this, formative assessment is generally presented while learning is ongoing (e.g. during course weeks). Examples include formal assignments on which students receive feedback (from their teacher or each other) and quizzes (either graded or ungraded). But it can also entail informal, low-threshold strategies targeting the students’ learning process such as the use of polls and questioning techniques during lectures. 

As both forms of assessment serve a different purpose, they are often highly complementary. Many courses benefit from a combination of well-thought out summative and formative assessment methods.


What to assess?

Once you have determined the underlying purpose (summative or formative) of the assessment method you are developing, a subsequent question is what, exactly, you should assess.

The answer lies in the intended learning outcomes that you have formulated for your course. Your intended learning outcomes, the teaching and learning activities that make up your course, and your assessment method should be aligned. For example, if your learning outcomes state that students should be able to remember key theories in your field, then you want to design learning activities that address this (e.g. by discussing these theories in your lectures), and you want to make sure that your assessment method captures their ability to remember these theories (e.g. by asking questions about these theories in an exam).

To put it simply, the key to developing high quality-assessment is that it measures the intended learning outcomes adequately. Clearly formulated learning outcomes are thus a prerequisite for the development of high quality-assessment.


How to choose an assessment method?

While establishing why and what you want to assess will already make it easier to choose an appropriate assessment method, there are also tools that can help you to further simplify this process. One very effective tool is a test grid (sometimes also called a test matrix or test specification table). A test grid is a table in which you specify to which extent you want to assess each of your learning outcomes, and how these learning outcomes relate to the different cognitive levels of learning (e.g. the ability to remember or apply knowledge, or to analyze and create, etc). Doing so provides you with more detailed insight into the importance of each of your learning outcomes and the cognitive levels of learning that are involved, which in turn makes it easier to select a suitable assessment method. This is particularly important for summative forms assessment, for which the stakes are high.

Please view the following instructions in how you can fill out a test grid. If you would like to use one yourself, you can download this template.


1. Start by writing down your intended learning outcomes. Write one outcome in each row.

2. Then, fill out the ‘content-related validity’ column. Here, you specify the weight that you want to attach to each learning outcome. You can classify this in any way you would like (in the example below, we use percentages, but points are also fine). As you can see, in the example we deem the first learning outcome to be particularly key in this course (40%), and the fourth to be the least important (15%). Filling out this column already provides you with some additional insight: you now know which learning outcomes are most important, which may make it easier to pick a suitable assessment method.

3. You can narrow this choice down even further by also specifying how your learning outcomes correspond with different cognitive levels of learning. In the top two rows (the green and grey cells), two frequently used taxonomies of learning have been added and matched: the Dublin descriptors and Bloom’s revised taxonomy. These are classification systems that can be used to distinguish between different cognitive levels of learning (the first three columns) and skills (the last two columns).

Consider how each of your learning outcomes relates to these levels of learning, and specify this in your test grid by dividing the percentages or points that you have filled out in the ‘content-related validity’ column. In the example below, we have determined that the first learning outcome (which centers on understanding and remembering key theories) entirely pertains to the ability to remember and understand knowledge. The second learning outcome (which has to do with applying these theories) also involves the ability to remember to a small extent, but primarily the ability to apply this knowledge. The third and fourth learning outcomes have more to do with the ability to analyze, evaluate, and create, as well as the skill to communicate this effectively.

Once you have specified this for each learning outcome, add the numbers in all five columns. The summed-up percentages in the ‘construct-related validity’ column now provide you with further insight: not only do you know which learning outcomes you primarily want to focus on, you now also have an overview of the levels of learning and skills to which they relate. In the example below, it seems clear that our assessment method(s) should primarily address the ability to remember and understand, as this level of learning has emerged as particularly important in our course (50%). For examples of methods that can be used to assess the different levels of learning, you can visit this page. 

4. Once you have decided which assessment methods (formative and/or summative) you would like to use, you can add them to the table as well. In our example, we have chosen to assess the first two learning outcomes with an exam consisting of multiple choice-questions which makes up 60% of the grade for this course (in line with the weights we attached to the first two learning outcomes). The third learning outcome is assessed with a written assignment counting for 40%, while the fourth learning outcome is assessed with an oral presentation that serves a formative function (e.g. students receive feedback on it, but it is not graded).

Filling out the test grid has structured and simplified the decision-making process and allows you to make a better, well-reasoned choice for specific assessment methods. The overview that it provides in turn makes it easier to actually start developing questions (e.g. for the mc-exam) and instructions (e.g. for the written assignment and presentation).

Please note that there is not one ‘correct’ way to fill out a test grid. Different teachers using the same learning outcomes may weigh the outcomes and relate them to the taxonomies in different ways. This is completely fine for the test grid is merely a tool that allows you to make easier and better decisions when picking an assessment method.

You can watch a video on how to use a test grid in order to choose the right assessment method.


Whom to contact?

Contact EDU Support or your faculty's Embedded Expert from ESI for tailored didactic advice in using these suggestions in your teaching. For technical assistance please contact Nestorsupport.




Last modified: 13 December 03:41 pm
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