Grading and Assessment

Assessment should enable students to demonstrate capacities relative to the learning objectives. Learning objectives are typically effects and competencies we seek to instill in our learners using the course content as the tool. The facts and figures matter greatly. Students cannot demonstrate higher-order thinking before they remember and understand the material to be manipulated. The effects and competencies may be broad and demonstrable in several different types of assessments. When thinking about types of assessments to include in your course, always start by clarifying your learning objectives.

  • What do I want students to know and be able to do when they leave this course/lesson? (Learning Objectives)
  • What kinds of tasks/ deliverables will reveal whether students have achieved the learning objectives? (Assessments)

Giving Effective Feedback

Feedback is integral in helping students understand their shortcomings and gauge their understanding and skill level. By being conscious about when and what feedback you offer, you can greatly enhance the learning experience. Watch this video to learn more about what constitutes effective feedback and how you can use it as a powerful teaching tool.

We should not assess what we do not teach. The verbs that lead your learning objectives will be measurable outcomes. Not everything we teach is measurable, but that which we hold the students accountable for should be. How we mark the assessments, the grading process is a challenging aspect of being an educator. Approaching student work with rigor, compassion, and consistency makes for impactful learning.

Online Assessment

The NYU Remote Instruction Support Website, Remote Assessment Methods, and Practices covers in detail technology tools that can help you assess student learning.

One thing to keep in mind when crafting online assessment and discussion prompts is to be as clear and specific as possible.

These tips from Writing Better Questions for Online Assessment can help you with writing better questions for your online assessment.

Writing Better Questions for Online Assessment

  • Phrase questions precisely and clearly
    • Unless learners can understand the question, they cannot answer it.
  • Ask questions simply and directly
    • Simple questions are easier to understand, to answer, and to score. 
    • Direct questions seem more objective and fair to learners.
  • Put background information before the question
    • Do not supply new information in a question. For complex questions, supply background information in a lead-in to the question. Phrase the lead-in as simple declarative sentences.
  • Include instructions on how to answer
    • If learners might not know how to indicate their answers, put instructions immediately after the question proper.
    • Ask yourself whether 95% of your learners will figure out how to answer the question without any instructions. If not, add instructions.

You can also seek guidance from the Writing Center to craft impactful assignment prompts.

Source: Writing Better Questions for Online Assessment.

How to Use Rubrics in Your Assessment

A rubric is an assessment tool that lays out specific components and performance expectations for an assignment. It clearly indicates achievement criteria across all the components of any kind of student work, from written to oral to visual, and can be used for marking assignments, class participation, or overall grades. Rubrics can ease anxiety about the grading process for both faculty and students as they help stay focused and consistent on expectations. Creating rubrics does require a substantial time investment upfront, but this process will result in reduced time spent grading or explaining assignment criteria down the road.

Preparing Prompts and Clear Instructions for Assessment

When crafting assessment descriptions, and discussion prompts you want to be as clear as possible.

  • What you want the assignment to require the students to do 
  • Consider what kinds of thinking you want students to do
  • Do you want your students to define, illustrate, compare, analyze, or evaluate
  • Outline your research requirements
  • Provide context - the more precise their responses will be 
  • Be clear about the paper/written work requirements: length, flexibility, citation format etc.
  • Try to write the assignment yourself 

Source: Dartmouth College, Writing Center 

Quizzes: Good or Bad?

There is not a simple answer to whether quizzes are good or bad. However, quizzing has proven to hold many benefits, and using innovative quiz design can help overcome quiz-related concerns.

Benefits of Quizzing

Cognitive psychology research documents the positive effects of repeated testing on improved academic performance as well as both short-term and long-term retention (Brame & Biel, 2015; Smith & Karpicke 2014).  This testing effect is further enhanced by feedback on low-confident correct answers and incorrect answers and can solidify students' understanding of concepts (Butler & Roediger, 2008; Butler et al., 2008). The main advantage of regular quizzes is that they provide ongoing opportunities for retrieval practice.

Concerns and How to Tackle Them

There are concerns regarding repeated testing, including increased test anxiety, reliance on low-level thinking where the right answer is memorized, and the punitive aspect of quizzing. These, however, can be addressed by innovative quiz design. Some ideas include:

Alternative Assessments

Assessment is an important part of teaching and learning where we determine whether students have succeeded in reaching the course’s learning objectives. This video will explore some alternative assessments that you can use in your classroom.

  • Ungraded quizzes: Ungraded quizzes can reduce test anxiety and lead to higher final test scores than graded quizzes and no quizzes (Khanna, 2015).
  • Collaborative quizzes: Collaborative testing can reduce test anxiety, increase confidence, and deepen the engagement with course content by generating discussion among students. Similarly, there is evidence that coupled with open-note quizzing, it can increase the final exam scores (Rezaei, 2015).
    This article by Dr. Maryellen Weimer describes an innovative collaborative quiz design used in an introductory pharmaceutical science course.
  • Online pretesting quizzes: Online quizzes completed before the class can help professors identify common points of misunderstanding and frequent incorrect answers. The class time can then be used to address these topics. There are results suggesting that pretesting students’ knowledge may prime them for learning (Little & Bjork, 2011). This could also address the concern of using too much of class time for administering quizzes.

More ideas can be found in this special report: Designing Better Quizzes: Ideas for Rethinking Your Quiz Practices by Faculty Focus.

Additional Resources on Writing Effective Assignments