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Assessment Primer

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Why do Assessment?

Are you asking too little of your class?
Image of an athlete high jumping over a bar. Are your students approaching your course as hurdlers, barely clearing required levels of performance? Or are they approaching your course like high jumpers, pushing themselves under your guidance to increasingly more challenging heights? If your students aren't high jumpers, maybe it's because you aren't asking them to high jump. By using appropriate assessment techniques, you can encourage your students to raise the height of the bar.

There is considerable evidence showing that assessment drives student learning. More than anything else, our assessment tools tell students what we consider to be important. They will learn what we guide them to learn through our assessments.

Cartoon image of a student working on homework at a desk.  Rollover image of this is animated.
Traditional testing methods have been limited measures of student learning, and equally important, of limited value for guiding student learning. These methods are often inconsistent with the increasing emphasis being placed on the ability of students to think analytically, to understand and communicate at both detailed and "big picture" levels, and to acquire life-long skills that permit continuous adaptation to workplaces that are in constant flux. Moreover, because assessment is in many respects the glue that links the components of a course - its content, instructional methods, and skills development - changes in the structure of a course require coordinated changes in assessment.

This Primer is designed to welcome you to the world of classroom assessment. The College Level One (CL-1) Team assumes you are here because you are interested in better ways to assess student learning in your class and in helping your students become more reflective and effective learners.

One goal of this website is to provide resources that enable you to begin this journey to more effective assessment of student learning. The first step is to articulate your course goals. Once you have identified your course goals, this website presents Classroom Assessment Techniques or CATs that are aligned with them. The CATs are a rich, eye-opening source of ideas and associated tools that have been extensively field-tested by your colleagues across the spectrum of STEM disciplines and post-secondary institutions. We encourage you to explore the CATs to see how you can work with your class to assess their understanding, skills, and attitudes through concept maps, conceptests, Fermi tests, interviews, portfolios, and other related techniques and tools. If you are not familiar with these forms of assessment, we are confident that you will discover, as we have, that they provide paths to a broader and deeper understanding of student learning for both you and your students.

We close by noting that assessment is undergoing exciting changes in college STEM courses. The overarching intent of this website is to capture the vitality of assessment. The CL-1 Team views assessment as a moving target and this website as a living product, providing both a mechanism for rapid dissemination of assessment-related developments and a forum for their discussion. In this spirit, the CL-1 Team invites you to join the growing number of college STEM instructors who are identifying and developing new tools that can be used to assess student learning and to share your ideas and experiences with us. We welcome your feedback and encourage you to contact us.

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