What is Assessment and Why Engage in It?

Assessment is part of a discovery process, where you uncover the knowledge, skills, attitudes, competencies, and habits of mind expected of students as a result of participating in your course and in a program of study. Be transparent in these expectations for students by placing learning outcomes on each course syllabus, and share program outcomes on all program websites. The desired state is to assess these things about students while there is time to redirect a course of study. We call this formative assessment.

What are Quality Learning Outcomes?

An outcome must be measurable, meaningful, and manageable. It specifies what you want the student to know or do. A good outcome statement also uses active verbs. An outcome consists of three components:

  • Audience (A) = Person doing or expressing
  • Behavior (B) = What audience will do or report
  • Condition (C) = What audience needs to do to succeed

Examples of learning outcomes include:

  • Students in an introductory science course will be able to recall at least 5 of the 7 elements of the periodic table.
  • Students in the Psychology Program will design a research experiment they will carry out in their capstone course.
  • Students in the Service Learning Leadership Program will demonstrate increased leadership skills by successfully completing a leadership skills inventory, as indicated by a score of at least 80% correct.

A helpful and frequently used resource when writing student learning outcomes is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Skills. Bloom’s taxonomy provides verbs associated with a ranking of thinking skills, moving from less complex thinking skills at the knowledge level to more complex thinking at the evaluation level. Make sure to set the level of the outcome to match the level at which the content is taught. University of Arkansas provides a helpful chart of verbs aligned to Bloom’s Taxonomy for writing learning outcomes.

Classroom Assessment Techniques

These are so many ways to measure what students know and can do, so why limit yourself to just one or two methods? For example, the following are but some of the many assessment techniques faculty can use.

  • Course and homework assignments
  • Multiple choice examinations and quizzes
  • Essay examinations
  • Term papers and reports
  • Observations of field work, internship performance, service learning, or clinical experiences
  • Research projects
  • Class discussions
  • Artistic performances
  • Personal essays
  • Journal entries
  • Computational exercises and problems
  • Case studies

In their book Classroom Assessment Techniques (2nd ed.), Cross and Angelo outline the main characteristics of classroom assessment techniques. The characteristics include that they are learner centered, instructor directed, provide formative information that is mutually beneficial to both students and instructors, and are more credible when context situated and built upon best assessment practices.

  • Learner centered. Focus is on the observation and improvement of learning (e.g prior knowledge, misconceptions, or misunderstandings students may have over course content)
  • Instructor directed. Instructor decides what to assess, how to assess, and how to respond to the information gained from assessment.
  • Formative. Assessment feedback is used to allow students to improve, rather than assigning grades. Feedback is ongoing and iterative in that it provides instructors and students useful information about learning which can be evaluated and used for improvement actions.
  • Mutually beneficial. Students reinforce their grasp of the course concepts and strengthen their own skills at self-assessment while instructors increase their teaching focus
  • Context situated. Assessment targets the particular needs and priorities of the instructor and student as well as the discipline in which they are applied
  • Best practice based. Assessment is built upon current standards to make the assessment of learning and teaching more systematic, flexible, and frequent. Assessing student knowledge prior to instruction helps instructors tailor class activities to student needs. Assessment during a class helps instructors ensure that students are learning the content satisfactorily. Using classroom assessment technique immediately after instruction helps to reinforce the material taught and uncover any misunderstanding of the content before it becomes a significant barrier to progress.

While there are myriad ways to conduct quality assessment, the two most commonly used assessment tools are rubrics and tests.


Rubrics are used to assess a variety of interactions including capstone projects, collections of student work (e.g., portfolios), direct observations of student behavior, evaluations of performance, external juried review of student projects, photo and music analysis, and student performance, to name a few. The main advantages of rubrics are that they help standardize assessment of more subjective learning outcomes, such as critical thinking or interpersonal skills, and they are easy for practitioners to use and understand. Rubrics clearly articulate the criteria used to evaluate students.

You can elect to create a rubric from scratch or used a pre-existing rubric (as is or modify) if it fits your context. Many great instructional resources exist to create rubrics.

Creating a Rubric

Start with the end in mind… What do you want students to know or do as a result of your effort? What evidence do you need to observe to know that students got it? These questions lead to the main components of a rubric:

  • a task description or a descriptive title of the task students are expected to produce or perform;
  • a scale (and scoring) that describes the level of mastery (e.g., exceed expectation, meets expectation, doesn’t meet expectation);
  • components/dimensions students are to attend to in completing the assignment/tasks (e.g., types of skills, knowledge, etc.); and
  • description of the performance quality (performance descriptor) of the components/dimensions at each level of mastery.

Steps in Rubric Development

  1. Identify the outcome areas, also known as components/dimensions. What is it that students (and or faculty staff) are supposed to demonstrate (skills, knowledge, behaviors, etc.)?
  2. Determine the scale. Identify how many levels are needed to assess performance component/dimension. Decide what score should be allocated for each level.
  3. Develop performance descriptors at each scale level scoring. Use Bloom’s taxonomy as a starting point. Start at end points & provide descriptors (e.g., define does not meet expectations and exceeds expectations. Can provide score overall or by dimension.
  4. Train raters and pilot test. Train raters on how to use tool by pilot-testing the rubric with a few sample papers and/or get feedback from your colleagues (and students) on the rubric. Revise the rubric.
    In order to provide consistent and reliable rating, those who will be rating need to be familiar with the rubric and need to interpret and apply the rubric in the same way.

Pre-existing Rubrics


There is no one way to develop a classroom-level test; there are, however, commonly agreed upon standards of quality that apply to all test development. The higher the stakes of the test used for decision-making (e.g., grades in course, final exams, and placement exams), the great attention one needs to pay to these three standards.

  1. Does the test measures what you intend it to measure?
  2. Does the test adequately represent or sample the outcomes, content, skills, abilities, or knowledge you will measure?
  3. Would the test results provide information that is useful in informing your teaching and provide sufficient evidence of student learning?

Selecting a test for use in your own classroom is feasible but care should be given as to the match of the content of the test with the course curriculum. The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (2014), have put forth a strict set of guidelines and apply “most directly to standardized measures generally recognized as ‘tests’ such as measures of ability, aptitude, achievement, attitudes, interests, personality, cognitive functioning, and mental health, it may also be usefully applied in varying degrees to a broad range of less formal assessment techniques” (p. 3). These are the general procedures for test development laid out in the Standards:

  1. Specify the purpose of the test and the inferences to be drawn.
  2. Develop frameworks describing the knowledge and skills to be tested.
  3. Build test specifications.
  4. Create potential test items and scoring rubrics.
  5. Review and pilot test items.
  6. Evaluate the quality of items.

Learn More Elsewhere

This article was last updated on Nov 12, 2020 @ 3:33 pm.

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