Understanding the Role of Assessment in Learning

Defining Assessment

What exactly do we mean when we talk about assessment of student learning? At the course level, assessment provides important data on the breadth and depth of student learning. Assessment is more than grading. It’s about measuring the progress of student learning. Thus, assessment is defined as a

“process of gathering data to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of student learning”

(Harris and Hodges, 1995).

Assessment and Learning

Assessment plays an important role in the process of learning and motivation. The types of assessment tasks that we ask our students to do determine how students will approach the learning task and what study behaviours they will use. In the words of higher education scholar John Biggs, “What and how students learn depends to a major extent on how they think they will be assessed.” (1999, p. 141).

Given the importance of assessment for student learning, it is important to consider how to best measure the learning that you want your students to achieve. Assessment should integrate grading, learning, and motivation for your students. Well-designed assessment methods provide valuable information about student learning. They tell us what students learned, how well they learned it, and where they struggled. Good assessments allow you to answer the question,

What was it that my students learned in my course?

Assessment then becomes a lens for understanding student learning, identifying invisible barriers, and helping us to improve our teaching approaches.