Faculty, departments, administration, and external funding/accreditation agencies use assessment to provide evidence of learning and to improve instruction in addition to measuring the success of university programs and curriculum. 

When thinking about specific assessment strategies, consider what you want to know and why you want to know it.

Important questions to ask in choosing strategies and measures of assessment include:

  • What are your overarching goals for the course?
  • What are the desired learning outcomes?
  • What types of teaching methods would facilitate student mastery of learning outcomes?
  • What types of assignments, quizzes, exams, or exercises ask students to engage desired skills and contents?

Outcomes can be measured through different types of direct and indirect assessment.

Direct Assessment

Direct assessment analyzes student performance and coursework as evidence of learning and measures the achievement of course outcomes and mastery of content. They provide concrete and measurable evidence of what students have and have not learned from course instruction.

Direct assessment strategies should reflect - or “align” with - the following four elements: 

  • over-arching goals: broad, generalized statements about what is to be learned
  • desired learning outcomes (DLOs): narrow, specific statements about concrete, measurable skills, or content to be gained in the course
  • teaching methods: teaching strategies aimed at building desired knowledge or skills
  • student assessment strategies: tools and strategies that analyze student performance and products as evidence of teaching effectiveness (e.g., assignments, quizzes, exams)

Direct Assessment Tools

Pre- and Post-Assessments

  • Pre- and post-assessments measure student learning by comparing results from tests conducted at the start and end of the course. This type of assessment identifies progress and/or mastery of desired learning goals among students with diverse educational backgrounds, and assesses the “value-added” by the course. Pre- and post-assessments should reflect the general goals of the course and align with the specific set of skills and content identified in the course’s learning objectives. 
  • Pre- and post-tests provide information that demonstrates student improvement as a result of learning during the course.

Embedded Assessment Using Rubrics

  • Rubrics are useful teaching tools in assessing student achievement of learning goals. Rubrics are standards for performance which score individual components of student work with defined criteria. Rubrics can be used as grading guidelines and as a means to provide feedback on learning efforts. They communicate transparent expectations for student performance, pinpoint common weaknesses in work, and provide structured feedback.
  • In assessing student learning in peer discussion, for example, it is extremely important to establish and communicate to students the rubric used to evaluate performance.

Embedded Assessment Using Quiz Tools

  • Quizzes assess students’ understanding of course material. They can include a short list of multiple-choice, true/false, matching, and short-answer questions. Students are sometimes allowed to use notes and given a limited time to complete each question. UCLA’s course management system, CCLE, offers a Quiz Tool that provides a variety of question types (from calculated to essay, matching, and true/false models) and modalities.

Embedded Assessment Using ePortfolios

  • Faculty may also consider course-level eportfolios (also known as electronic or digital portfolios) as a way to assess student work. ePortfolios are collections of electronic evidence demonstrating mastery of (or progress toward) knowledge and skills gained through course instruction. ePortfolios are, like the traditional paper portfolio, comprised of a selection of student work from throughout the course. ePortfolios often also include indirect self-assessment activities, in which students consider their own achievement of learning outcomes.

Other types of direct assessment include traditional exams, essays, and final projects.

Indirect Assessment

Indirect assessment analyzes how stakeholders (i.e., students, faculty, TAs, etc.) perceive the learning experience and achievement of course goals. This type of assessment is satisfaction-based and relies on proxy signs that indicate learning. Examples of indirect assessments include:

Surveys and Evaluations

One way of gauging student learning and satisfaction is via anonymous mid-quarter student surveys and end-of-term evaluations of instruction. Mid-quarter evaluations can take a variety of forms: a simple survey asking students to describe what is working, what is not working, and suggestions for change can be conducted via the CCLE Quiz Tool. The Quiz Tool allows you to administer three types of online surveys: (1) Attitudes to Thinking and Learning Survey (ATTLS), aimed at encouraging self-reflection and evaluation of students’ learning styles; (2) Critical Incidents Survey, which asks students to review and comment on their engagement in class; (3) Constructivist Online Learning Environment Survey (COLLES), specifically designed to target students’ reflections on online learning. You may also design your own survey using a commercial online survey tool. Results from end-of-term online student evaluations conducted by the Evaluation of Instruction Program at the Office of Instructional Development are also useful measures of general student satisfaction with learning strategies and course design.

Minute Papers

Minute papers can be used at the end of units or weeks to gauge student learning. It asks students to spend no more than one minute at the end of class or being instructional segments answering one or several short questions.

The minute paper exercise asks students to respond briefly to a set of weekly questions including one or more of the following:

  • What was the most important thing you learned during class?
  • What unanswered questions do you have?
  • What was the muddiest point for you?
  • At what point this week were you most engaged as a learner?
  • Can you summarize this week’s lesson in one sentence? If so, please summarize it.
  • What has been most helpful to you this week in learning the course materials?

Other types of indirect assessment include informal feedback strategies (incorporating specific questions into a lesson), focus groups, self-reflection assignments, and individual student interviews.

Using Grades as an Assessment Tool

Traditional grading provides few details that allow instructors to link students’ performance to individual teaching strategies since they do not account for students’ prior skills and background. Grades are only useful measures of assessment if the instructor administers a pre-test to identify a baseline of students’ previous knowledge when entering the course. Nevertheless, grades are still considered imprecise measures of course success because they also often reflect elements not related to learning outcomes, such as extra credit and penalties for absences.

Please visit the Resources page to see assessment matrix samples.