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Tools for Assessment

Educational assessment is the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills,
attitudes and beliefs. Assessment can focus on the individual learner, the learning community (class,
workshop, or other organized group of learners), the institution, or the educational system as a whole.
Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)


The term assessment is generally used to refer to all activities teachers use to help students learn and
to gauge student progress. Though the notion of assessment is generally more complicated than the
following categories suggest, assessment is often divided for the sake of convenience using the
following distinctions:

1. Formative and summative: Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a
course or project. In an educational setting, summative assessments are typically used to
assign students a course grade. Formative assessment is generally carried out throughout a
course or project. Formative assessment, also referred to as "educative assessment," is used to
aid learning. In an educational setting, formative assessment might be a teacher (or peer) or
the learner, providing feedback on a student's work, and would not necessarily be used for
grading purposes.
2. Objective and Subjective: Objective assessment is a form of questioning which has a single
correct answer. Subjective assessment is a form of questioning which may have more than
one correct answer (or more than one way of expressing the correct answer). There are
various types of objective and subjective questions. Objective question types include
true/false answers, multiple choice, multiple-response and matching questions. Subjective
questions include extended-response questions and essays. Objective assessment is well
suited to the increasingly popular computerized or online assessment format.
3. Referencing (criterion-referenced, norm-referenced, and ipsative)
A) Typically using a criterion-referenced test, as the name implies, occurs when
candidates are measured against defined (and objective) criteria. Criterion-referenced
assessment is often, but not always, used to establish a person’s competence (whether
s/he can do something). The best known example of criterion-referenced assessment is
the driving test, when learner drivers are measured against a range of explicit criteria
(such as “Not endangering other road users”).

B) Norm-referenced assessment (colloquially known as "grading on the curve"), typically

using a norm-referenced test, is not measured against defined criteria. This type of
assessment is relative to the student body undertaking the assessment. It is
effectively a way of comparing students. Entrance tests (to prestigious schools or
universities) are norm-referenced, permitting a fixed proportion of students to pass
(“passing” in this context means being accepted into the school or university rather
than an explicit level of ability). This means that standards may vary from year to
year, depending on the quality of the cohort; criterion-referenced assessment does
not vary from year to year (unless the criteria change).

4. Informal and formal: Formal assessment usually implicates a written document, such as a
test, quiz, or paper. A formal assessment is given a numerical score or grade based on student
performance, whereas an informal assessment does not contribute to a student's final grade.
An informal assessment usually occurs in a more casual manner and may include observation,
inventories, checklists, rating scales, rubrics, performance and portfolio assessments,
participation, peer and self evaluation, and discussion.
5. Internal and external: Internal assessment is set and marked by the school (i.e. teachers). Students
get the mark and feedback regarding the assessment. External assessment is set by the governing body,
and is marked by non-biased personnel. With external assessment, students only receive a mark.
Therefore, they have no idea how they actually performed (i.e. what bits they answered correctly.


What Are CATs?

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are generally simple, non-graded,

anonymous, in-class activities designed to give you and your students useful
feedback on the teaching-learning process as it is happening.

Examples of CATs include the following.

• The Background Knowledge Probe is a short, simple questionnaire

given to students at the start of a course, or before the introduction of a
new unit, lesson or topic. It is designed to uncover students’ pre-
• The Minute Paper 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
• The Muddiest Point is one of the simplest CATs to help assess where
students are having difficulties. 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
• The What’s the Principle? CAT is useful in courses requiring problem-
solving. After students figure out what type of problem they are
dealing with, they often must decide what principle(s) to apply in order
to solve the problem. This CAT provides students with a few problems
and asks them to state the principle that best applies to each problem.
• Defining Features Matrix: Prepare a handout with a matrix of three columns and several rows. At the
top of the first two columns, list two distinct concepts that have potentially confusing similarities (e.g.
hurricanes vs. tornados, Picasso vs. Matisse). In the third column, list the important characteristics of
both concepts in no particular order. Give your students the handout and have them use the matrix to
identify which characteristics belong to each of the two concepts. Collect their responses, and you’ll
quickly find out which characteristics are giving your students the most trouble.

Why Should I Use CATs?

CATs can be used to improve the teaching and learning that occurs in a class. More frequent use of CATs

• Provide just-in-time feedback about the teaching-learning process

• Provide information about student learning with less work than traditional assignments (tests, papers,
• Encourage the view that teaching is an ongoing process of inquiry, experimentation, and reflection
• Help students become better monitors of their own learning
• Help students feel less anonymous, even in large courses
• Provide concrete evidence that the instructor cares about learning

How Should I Use CATs?

Results from CATs can guide teachers in fine-tuning their teaching strategies to better meet student needs. A
good strategy for using CATs is the following.

1. Decide what you want to assess about your students’ learning from a CAT.
2. Choose a CAT that provides this feedback, is consistent with your teaching style, and can be
implemented easily in your class.
3. Explain the purpose of the activity to students, and then conduct it.
4. After class, review the results, determine what they tell you about your students’ learning, and decide
what changes to make, if any.
5. Let your students know what you learned from the CAT and how you will use this information.

Where Can I Find More CATs?

The standard references on CATs is Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers,
2nd edition, by Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross (Jossey-Bass, 1993). This book includes 50 CATs,
indexed in a variety of useful ways. The book is available at the Center for Teaching library. See its ACORN
record for call number and availability. See also this book review from the Center for Teaching's newsletter.

A number of web sites also feature information on and examples of CATs, including the following.

• Examples of CATs from the National Teaching and Learning Forum

• More Examples of CATs from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
• More Examples of CATs from Honolulu Community College.
• CATs for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math from the Field-Tested Learning Assessment
• CATs for Assessing Problem-Solving Skills from Robert L. Harrold
Using Online Assessment in Face-to-Face Courses

Blackboard’s Assessment Features

Blackboard's Assessment features provide instructors with tools for building online assessments using
different question types. These assessments can provide students with immediate feedback, are automatically
graded (with the exception of essay questions), and scores are logged into the online Gradebook. Instructors
can use the Assessment features to test student knowledge, measure student progress, and gather information
from students. Blackboard offers two assessment options:

Tests: Tests are created to check the knowledge and skill level of students enrolled in the course. The
tests option allows the instructor to assign point value and feedback to each question.
When a student completes a test it is submitted for grading. The results are recorded in the Gradebook

Surveys: Surveys are useful for polling purposes, evaluations, and random checks of knowledge. They
function in the same way as tests and offer most of the same options. Surveys cannot give feedback to
the user, they cannot be graded, there are no points associated with a survey, nor will a name be
associated with a submitted survey.

The online Gradebook will reflect that the survey has been taken and submitted by issuing a check
mark next to the user's name.

Blackboard also has a Pool Manager. The Pool Manager allows instructors to store questions for
repeated use. Instructors can create new questions to include in Pools and add questions that have been
created in other Tests or Pools. Pools from other courses can be imported through the Pool Manager.
Weighing the Pros and Cons


Increase student engagement in the curriculum - When students see their test results immediately, they are
more likely to be interested in the outcome than when they have to wait days for a grade. In addition, these
types of assessments can increase the time students spend looking at and grappling with the material.

Provide detailed and immediate feedback - Blackboard grades all questions, with the exception of short
answer/essay, automatically and therefore can present students with scores and explanations immediately.
With the built-in feedback options, you can set Blackboard up to give students the appropriate feedback. "Yes,
good job, you really understand this concept." might be an example for correct answers. "No, sorry, that's not
the correct answer. You can refer back to page 29 of your textbook for more information." might be great
feedback for an incorrect response. Giving students the tools to search out correct information may make it
much more likely that they'll take the initiative to do it.

A painless way to integrate technology - Often instructors are encouraged to use technology in the classroom
but don't have the time or resources they need to implement their technology plans. Online assessment is an
easy way to begin using technology on a regular basis -- without using extra time or resources.

Location and time independent - Students can take a test from anywhere that provides access to the Internet,
during whatever time period you specify, using their own equipment if desired. Students can take tests while
on vacation or home sick.

Automatic score recording - Blackboard scores tests (with the exception of essay questions) automatically.
These scores are logged into the online Gradebook and are immediately visible for student access. This takes
the responsibility of grading and recording off of the instructor or GTF.

More frequent assessments - Increased assessment may help instructors more accurately gauge student

A time saver - Online testing saves teachers grading time. More importantly, online testing saves instructional
time, both in class and out. Often students can complete online tests in less time than it takes to complete
penand-paper tests. The extra time can be used for higher-order thinking projects that apply the material on the

Practice with technology-based test formats - Many standardized tests, such as the Graduate Record
Examination (GRE), can now be taken on a computer. The skills necessary for taking tests digitally (whether
using software or the Internet) are different from those required for pen-and-paper tests. Many computerized
tests, for example, don't allow students to return to a question after submitting an answer. The first guess,
therefore, must be the best guess. Using online assessment introduces students to those emerging test

Introduction of website and media - This can include sound, video, images, animation, and interactivity.
These can be useful for problem-solving simulations, challenging critical thinking and for students with
different learning styles.

Timeliness - When and how long the assessment is available is controlled by the instructor. If you are using
the assessment as a learning check, the timing can be set up so that the assessment is available immediately
following class time. Students can test themselves on material and if necessary access additional assistance
while the content is still fresh in their mi
Online assessment should never be the only type of assessment used in a course.
Making the assessment ‘worth something’ to the students, either point value or educational value, will
increase student use. You can save time building assessments using Microsoft Word and/or Respondus.
The Center for Educational Technologies can show you how.


Unleashing the Power of PowerPoint

Set up a consultation with TEP to explore the potential PowerPoint has as a tool of assessment both in
classroom and beyond.

WCC - Blackboard Quiz Generator (NOTE: This link will open in a new browser window)
This site at Wytheville Community College provides what the author claims is "a simpler, faster way to create
Blackboard quizzes and tests!" This site also contains many valuable tips and tricks, including Bookmarklets,
which are small javascript applets that can be used to automate some tedious tasks in Blackboard.

SHSU - Blackboard Assessment FAQ (NOTE: This link will open in a new browser window)
This page at Sam Houston State University provides answers to common problems with the Blackboard
Assessment feature. This page is one of many useful pages on the SHSU Blackboard Central site.

UIS - Blackboard Assessment-Taking Issues (NOTE: This link will open in a new browser window)
This page from the University of Illinois at Springfield provides tips and solutions for many known issues with
Blackboards Assessment feature.

• Using Personal Response Systems (PRS) to Facilitate Active Learning in Any Classroom
( PDF )
Personal Response Systems allows instructors to assess students’ understanding of the subject
matter, receive immediate feedback and reinforcement for what is being learned, get shy and
under-prepared students to participate, poll students’ opinions and preferences instantly,
observe student misconceptions, and encourage peer instruction.
• Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) in the Classroom or Online
Classroom assessment is critical to any learner-driven--as opposed to content-driven--
education. Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) provide crucial feedback from students
about their on-going understanding of course material.
• Web-Based Testing and Student Assessment
(NOTE: This link will open in a new browser window) UO website maintained by the
Director for the Center for Educational Technologies that includes some general discussion, a
review of available options, and some sample products.

Web-Based Testing and Student Assessment

Many faculty specialists have expressed an interest in web-based assessment. Therefore, several UO
faculty have developed or installed online testing facilities for their courses. Some examples of these
types of Web based assessment are the following links:

• Greg Bothun (e.g. Physics 161)

• Dave Dusseau (BA101)
• Hal Sadofsky et al (Arch 410/510)
• SSIL-supported distance ed courses (Terri Heath et al.)

General discussion on this matter:

We can distinguish several different pedagogical uses for such technology, e.g.:

• Formal exam assessment/grading (requires confidence that method is secure)

• In- and semi-formal exam (e.g. "quizes")
• Student self-assessment
• Online tutorials with integrated practice/exercises
• Collecting input from students (e.g. course evaluations)

Most online quiz packages include at least 4 components:

1. An authoring component for use by the faculty member in preparing quizes

2. A delivery component for actually administering quizes
3. A grading component for mechanically scoring the quiz, reporting the results either to the
student or to the instructor
4. A security/admin component for controlling who can take the quiz, etc.

Most packages use a backend database to store test information and student data. A few store tests
directly as HTML; most generate them dynamically.

A major problem with online assessment is the difficulty of security. One can, of course, proctor
online tests, but that mitigates many of the benefits. It's very easy to cheat (e.g. get a friend to take
the test for you) in an online setting. As a result, web-based testing software tends to be most popular
with faculty who need it for some special reason, e.g. because the course is offered totally by distance
education, or because the course material whose mastery is being tested involves use of a computer.
Other common uses of web-based assessment, however, don't necessarily have such stringent
security constraints.

Reviews of available options

Here are some miscellaneous links academic sites that have evaluated or characterized available
software for web-based testing:
Sample products

Some sample commercial and freeware web-based testing products:

Question Mark
Vendor sells testing software. Site includes sample exams.

Electronic Portfolios (NOTE: This link will open in a new browser window)
This is an extensive site focused on electronic portfolios as an alternative tool for assessment. This
site is developed and maintained by Dr. Helen Barret at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Online Video and Podcasts

• Electronic Portfolios in Adult Learning. Presentation for NIACE online e-MOOT Conference,
October 3, 2007 (27 minutes) (several versions of video, all requiring QuickTime)
• Keynote address at the First VideoFunet Conference: "Digital Stories and ePortfolios:
Documenting Lifelong and Life Wide Learning", Finland. May 11, 2007. (48 minutes, 44.3
• Keynote address at the ePortfolio Hong Kong Conference: "Voice and Interactivity in
ePortfolios: Digital Stories and Web 2.0". Hong Kong, March 20, 2007. (several versions of
video, all requiring QuickTime - 45 minutes)
• Keynote address at the University of New Hampshire statewide ePortfolio
Conference.Manchester, NH., November 17, 2006. (a Podcast that requires QuickTime - 56
minutes, 30.5 MB)
• Keynote address at the Fourth International Conference on the ePortfolio, Oxford, England,
October 13, 2006. (a Podcast that requires QuickTime - 30 minutes, 16.4 MB)
• ePortfolio as Digital Story of Deep Learning (11 minutes - requires QuickTime)
• High School Portfolios: To "e" or not to "e" BCCampus webcast, February 15, 2005
(Required latest Flash Player and certain Web browsers)
• University of British Columbia's e-Portfolio Conference: Reflection Is Not a Mirror, It's a
Lens, November 19, 2004 (Requires QuickTime)
• First International Conference on the ePortfolio, Poitiers, France. October 9, 2003. (Requires
Windows Media Player) [link may no longer work]
• Dr. Barrett's Slideshows from 2002 CD (embedded on
• Ready2Net Broadcast, Chicago, IL. October 24, 2002. (Requires Windows Media Player)
• Apple Learning Interchange Exhibit (various short video clips). (Requires QuickTime)