Assessment Strategies

Characteristics of the Best Assessments

Acquiring knowledge and skills in a profession is a journey to the goal of mastery.   Good assessment helps the learner by providing a clear destination, hands-on driving lessons, progress gauges, and a road map.

Authentic Assessments for Small Classes

Assessment  of the tasks and challenges likely to occur in professional practice can be both meaningful and valid.  Examples are written reports, demonstrations, presentations, and oral dialogue incorporating professional standards and expectations.  The instructor may provide feedback on performance standards either by using detailed rubrics or by providing more general open-ended comments and suggestions.  But these types of assessments have disadvantages related to timeliness and practicality.  There may be a large gap between the time students complete a task and the time they receive feedback on their performance.  Practicality of assessments decreases with growing class size unless evaluators in addition to the instructor can provide support.

Practical Assessments for Large Classes

In large classes multiple choice questions (MCQ’s) can assess a comprehensive amount of knowledge quickly and easily and lend themselves to statistical analyses of reliability and validity.  In professional fields such as medicine and law, they are similar to the exams for professional certification.  But they have drawbacks related to transparency, higher order thinking, and authenticity.

Because MCQs are often administered in high stakes testing situations, transparency is limited because of the need to maintain test item security.  Students typically get a score only on their overall performance like 75% correct or a letter grade and thus lack feedback on specific strengths and weaknesses.  Many MCQs address primarily factual knowledge and not higher order skills such as application, analysis, and evaluation.  They are less “authentic” than other types of tests since selecting the right alternative from a short list is different from the constructive work of practicing a profession.

Making Practical Assessments Better

Strategies for assessing large classes take advantage of MCQ’s but lead the student with clear objectives, multiple gauges, and a detailed road map.  Student engagement in test construction, peer review, and team-based learning ensure that students drive themselves to the destination.  If skills desired are higher order, instructions can facilitate construction of more complex MCQ’s.  Requiring occasional written explanations of alternatives chosen and ratings of relative confidence in alternatives make MCQ’s engage the student and make MCQs more authentic assessments.