Answers to Common Questions
How can assessment be meaningful if it is not held to the same standard as research?
Assessment and research are two entirely different things and should not be judged using the same standards.
The purpose of assessment is to improve student learning; the purpose of research is to generate new scholarly information.
Assessment methods are driven by standard assessment procedures; research methods are driven by disciplinary or interdisciplinary best practices.
Assessment is tied to teaching because findings will be used to improve teaching; research is tied to teaching because findings will eventually become part of the teaching canon.
The caliber of assessment findings is determined by the use of vetted rubrics, multiple reviewers, and intra-disciplinary discussions (and by whether those findings are used to improve student learning); the caliber of research findings is determined by a peer review process leading to publication and/or presentation at conferences (and by the contribution of those findings to the field over time).
Assessment is never complete as it is an ongoing process; research is complete when a presentation or publication is final and a researcher moves on to the next project.
Why can’t we use grades or course evaluations to assess student learning?
Course evaluations can be a measure of student satisfaction and can effectively report classroom experiences, exposure to materials and ideas, and activities (we did this, we wrote this many papers, I encountered these ideas…). They can even provide a student’s sense of what the student learned. However, for all of their benefits, course evaluations do not count as direct assessment because they do not demonstrate learning to the professor or another outside observer.
Grades don’t usually count as assessment because they may include “improvement”, “effort”, “attendance and participation” and other elements that are not directly tied to student learning. Moreover, even when grades are tied directly to assignments (papers, exams, projects) they are often global. Knowing that five students each got an A- on a Dante paper does not mean they all demonstrably learned the same knowledge and skills. Grades are thus often not specific enough.
Is it ever possible to use grades to assess student learning?
Yes, when an exam item (or specific element of another kind of assignment) addresses a single learning outcome and elements such as “effort” or “writing mechanics” are not graded. Exam grades can serve as a clear proxy of demonstration of learning in such a case.