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Assessment and Evaluation of Learning

Assessment and Evaluation: Formative vs Summative

Robert Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction (1987) emphasize the importance of assessments that allow students to demonstrate learning comprehension, and not just recall: Providing formative assessment opportunities – e.g. written assignments, individual or group projects, presentations– tests students in ways that allow them to demonstrate their comprehension and application of course concepts (as opposed to simply memorization and recall). (Source). Chickering & Gamson also emphasize the importance of formative feedback in facilitating student learning. Summative assessments are used for the purpose of evaluation and are typically assigned at the end of the learning process.

A full list of Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) can be downloaded here as a PDF or retrieved from the George Washington University website.


Formative Assessments

typically ungraded or low-stakes opportunities to promote and measure student knowledge and skills



Summative Assessments

typically comes at the end of a unit/topic or semester, tied to a quantitative evaluation (grade) based on a set of criteria and standards of learning progress. Summative assessments should be forward-looking, authentic, and should the purpose of the learning (applied, real-world, relevant to the student’s path)

  • In-class and online discussions
  • Essay drafts
  • Peer review
  • One-minute summaries
  • Note-taking pairs
  • Mini-quizzes, polls, or surveys
  • Games
  • Confusion reports/Muddiest point
  • Conferencing with professor
  • short quizzes
  • Exams
  • Projects – group and individual
  • Essays/Reports/Theses
  • Multimodal products (presentations, videos, podcasts)
  • Oral or Poster presentations

Live presentations (not pre-recorded)


Oral reports

  • Frequent – feedback that shows students their progress and areas to where gaps exist or more practice are needed;
  • Timely – feedback should be given quickly so that students can revise and implement it in their ongoing course work;
  • Discriminating – establish clear standards for poor, acceptable, or exceptional work; provide models and exemplars, worked examples, and demonstrations. Students should learn from our feedback.
  • Caring – feedback is work-driven, not ego-driven. Feedback concentrates on the goal and the task, not the person.
  • Summative assessments are grounded in clear…
    • Criteria – what exactly do you expect to see? What exact knowledge, skills, or thinking should students be able to demonstrate?
    • Standards – how did they meet the criteria – what is average, exceptional, below standards? Think of these along a scale.
    • Rubrics – are there guides you can share with students that show how you will measure their work?


Alternative Assessments

Alternative assessments are used to determine what students can and cannot do, in contrast to what they do or do not know. (Source: BYU Center for Teaching & Learning)

  • Examples:
    • portfolios, project work, presentation (recorded or live) and other activities requiring some type of rubric.
    • take-home essay exam, paper, or digital project
    • writing a paper: an analysis of a case study, a summary of the pros and cons of a particular approach, a literature review, a summary of an article

The essence of a performance assessment is that students are given the opportunity to do one or more of the following:

  • Demonstrate their ability
  • Perform a meaningful task (real-world, authentic)
  • Receive feedback by a qualified person in terms of relevant and defensible criteria

For alternative forms of feedback for formative assessments and evaluation of learning before a grade is given, try these:

  • Screencasts – use a digital tool to capture your movements and thoughts as you respond and provide comments on student work. Examples include:
    • Student-to-student peer review – when using this to provide new perspectives on student work, be sure you PREPARE THEM! Use modeling to show how to provide effective peer feedback, show them how to be descriptive and specific, to give feedback as readers, not writers.
    • Use structured assignments to guide feedback (you can use Bean’s Structured Peer Review Assignment, adapted from John Bean’s Advice and Response Peer Review, Engaging Ideas, pp. 297-298)
    • Audio recordings that direct students to specific areas where they can revise and improve (Canvas Rich-Text Editor allows you to record media).
    • Instructor-to-Student Conferencing (model how to solve a problem, answer a question, write or read academically, and guide them through their revisions)
Assess Performance Through Alignment

Test whether the expected learning outcomes have been achieved on previously stated course objectives.

Some methods for testing learning include the following:

  • Administer pre- and post-tests to check for progression of competency in content or skills
  • Embed formative assessment opportunities throughout instruction using oral questioning, short active learning activities, or quizzes
  • Implement a variety of assessment methods to provide students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency
  • Craft objective, effective rubrics to assess written assignments, projects, or presentations

This course planning template can help you concretely structure your course using Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction.

Low-stakes assessments and learning evaluations help strengthen students’ ability to practice, receive feedback, and then successfully apply their learning before earning a grade. As well, authentic assessments that ask students to apply their learning in real-world scenarios or contexts further engage and deepen student learning.

From 10 Key Principles from the Learning Sciences

Retrieval activities, like self-testing and low-stakes quizzing, that ask students to practice remembering the information they’ve been taught by retrieving it from their long-term memory actually change the nature of memory by strengthening the path to memory and enriching the memory itself. In this way, retrieval practice leads to stronger and more enduring learning.

  • Encourage students to use self-tests to assess what knowledge is not easily retrieved and to flag areas for more retrieval practice. Flashcards can be a useful self-testing tool.
  • Teach students to pause during studying to try to recall key ideas.
  • Make quizzes low-stakes, predictable, simple, and quick. Having students generate questions for quizzes can be doubly beneficial.
Authentic Assessments

Authentic assessment has been defined as a form of evaluating learning in real-world contexts. It is applied learning that is meaningful, practical, and connects course content with authentic performance tasks. For a comprehensive resource on designing authentic assessments with examples across the disciplines, visit the Authentic Assessment Toolbox website.

Traditional Versus Authentic Assessment

Traditional Assessment

  • Selects a response
  • Contrived by instructor
  • Uses recall/recognition
  • Is teacher-structured
  • Indirect evidence
    • Exams
    • Quizzes
    • Essays
    • Projects
    • Presentations
    • Participation/Attendance

Authentic Assessment

  • Forward-looking
    • Students transfer their new knowledge to use in real-world, authentic situations (applied)
  • Worthy
    • Assessment is valuable to students, to their community, to society
    • Connected to things we care about
    • Is relevant
  • Student-centered/structured
  • Has depth & creates understanding
  • Is outward-oriented
  • Ongoing and cumulative
    • Demonstrates process and progress towards a goal
  • Leads to outcomes and is goal-oriented

Source: Jon Mueller, “Authentic Assessment Toolbox

Enhance retention and transfer

Help learners retain more information by providing them opportunities to connect course concepts to potential real-world applications.

The following are methods to help learners internalize new knowledge:

  • Avoid isolating course content. Associate course concepts with prior (and future) concepts and build upon prior (and preview future) learning to reinforce connections.
  • Continually incorporate questions from previous tests in subsequent examinations to reinforce course information.
  • Have students convert information learned in one format into another format (e.g. verbal or visuospatial). For instance, requiring students to create a concept map to represent connections between ideas (Halpern & Hakel, 2003, p. 39).
  • To promote deep learning, clearly articulate your lesson goals, use your specific goals to guide your instructional design, and align learning activities to lesson goals (Halpern & Hakel, 2003, p. 41).


  • Self-explaining (Lang) – students must record their steps or thinking in solving a problem or completing an assessment. You can require regular logs (or drafts) with progress reports and steps taken to complete the task. Have students identify challenges, gaps, knowledge they already had, or new knowledge learned.
  • Exam wrappers (Ambrose) – students get grades and scores, but do they know what they did right and what they didn’t get? Direct students to reflect and review how they prepared for an assessment, what they would keep or change, and to review areas for future study.
  • Short but regular quizzes that test for understanding.
  • Muddiest point -one of the simplest Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) to help assess where students are having difficulties, particularly post-lecture or discussion. The technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, film, etc.]?” The term “muddiest” means “most unclear” or “most confusing.”
  • Minute papers – tests how students are gaining knowledge, or not. The instructor ends class by asking students to write a brief response to the following questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and “What important question remains unanswered?”


The Power of Feedback

Provide timely feedback of students’ performance to assess and facilitate learning and to allow students to identify gaps in understanding before it is too late, i.e. they cannot revise and deepen learning before receiving a grade.

The following are some tips for types of feedback you may provide to students:

  • Diagnose – use formative pre-assessments early to let you and your student know what they already know and can use (strengths), and what they need to learn and create opportunities for practice (areas for improvement). (Ambrose, et. al., 2010, 114-115). This helps both you AND your students track progress and see growth.
  • Effective feedback should be goal and task-oriented; ego-oriented feedback will shut down the student (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996)
  • Grades are not insights into student progress, what they are doing well or have mastered nor what they need to specifically work on to improve.
  • Feedback is individualized to the student’s needs: “doesn’t judge, dish out empty praise, or focus on right or wrong answers” (Bain 2004). “Often…students are bewildered by our comments, and they sometimes read into them a tone and a meaning entirely different from our intentions” (Bean, 318).
  • Be efficient and focus on the link between comments and student learning: “We waste our students’ time and our own if students can’t learn from our comments” – “fixing isn’t learning” – “don’t comment on everything [you] notice” (Sommers 2013).
  • Comment less.

Formative Feedback in Class

Think/pair/share – students write down their initial response to a question, pair up with a neighbor to clarify and expand their answers, and then share in a general class discussion. Polling – use platforms like Polleverywhere.com, Sli.do, Padlet, or Kahoot! To do quick in-class surveys and polls to test for understanding.
Self-explanation or Think-Aloud – “Why are you doing that?” “How did you do that?” “What was your process” “What steps were taken to arrive at that solution or answer?” Exam wrappers – short handouts that have students review and analyze their performance (and the instructor’s feedback) to adapt their future learning.
Exit surveys – index cards, post-it notes, online quizzes or polls that students complete near the end of class. Prompts include: what is the most important thing you learned today? What more do you need to learn (to meet objective)? What are you still confused about? Screencasting or audio recording your feedback.


Feedback Guidelines from Chickering & Gamson

Provide effective and prompt feedback: Recognizing and understanding gaps of knowledge will help guide student learning.

  • Respond to student queries and problems quickly. Utilize discussions, polling, and/or social media during or after a lecture to provide opportunities for students to ask questions.
  • Utilize rubrics for grading projects and papers to standardize grading and provide prompt feedback to students.
  • Utilize low-stakes assessments to provide students with frequent assessments of their learning and provide frequent feedback on progress.
  • Provide frequently updated student grades by using the gradebook feature in your LMS.
  • Respond to distance students within a 24 hour time period if possible. If this is not realistic for the instructor, outline in the syllabus what students can expect for instructor response times.


More resources on assessment can be found in the OFA Public Folder: Flexible and Adaptive Assessments.


Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., & Norman M.K. (2010) How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Angelo, T.A. & Cross, K.P. (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd Ed. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.

Chickering, A. and Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. AAHE Bulletin, p3-7.

Gagné, R. M. (1985). The conditions of learning and theory of instruction (4th ed.). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Halpern, D. F., & Hakel, M. D. (2003). Applying the science of learning to the university and beyond: Teaching for long-term retention and transfer. Change, 35(4), 36-41.

Kluger, A. & DeNisi, A. (1996) “The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory.” Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 119, No 2: 254-284.

Meuller, J. (2018). Authentic Assessment Toolbox. www.Noctrl.edu. http://jfmueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/index.htm

“The Learning Sciences: 10 Key Principles.” Digital Promise and The Institute for Applied Neuroscience. Web. Retrieved May 11, 2020.

Providing Effective Feedback.” University of Florida, Center for Instructional Technology and Training. Web. Retrieved May 11, 2020.

Stenger, M. (2014) “5 Research-Based Tips for providing students with meaningful feedback.” Edutopia.