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Assessment for learning

Assessment for learning (also known as formative assessment) aims to support learning by providing students with frequent (often low-stakes) practice opportunities to demonstrate their learning and frequent feedback to let students know how their learning is progressing. For example, you might assign several low-stakes multiple choice question quizzes that will incrementally prepare students to succeed on a higher-stakes multiple choice question exam. Or you might assign several short, low-stakes pieces of writing to prepare students to write a term paper. 

To help students succeed, try to ensure that each assessment task is an opportunity for students to deepen their learning. Here are suggestions for planning assessment tasks that support students’ achievement of the learning outcomes and motivate students to learn. 

  • Help students see how assessment is linked to learning by explaining the value of each assessment task in terms of their learning: Let students know why the assessment is part of the course, how it relates to course learning outcomes, and where students might use the new knowledge or skills after the course. 

  • Allow students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways to increase the potential for reliability and motivate students to engage. [1] [2] Plan assessment tasks that require students to think at the same level as the course learning outcomes. Implement a variety of assessment tasks (e.g., term paper, oral presentation, infographic, podcast, blog post, exam, lab report, reflection journal). Provide students with opportunities for practice and feedback. Consider accommodations for students who may not be able to complete an assessment task in the planned format. Consider which assessment tasks students should do during class time and which outside class time, and whether they will do the assessment tasks individually, in pairs, or small groups. Think about what learning technologies students might be able to use to demonstrate their learning. 

  • Allow students some degree of choice regarding their assessment tasks, such as topic, task type, or task weight, to encourage them to take greater ownership of their learning while still focusing on the intended course learning outcomes. (Read about flexible assessment.) A task type choice might allow students to submit an infographic, for example, instead of giving an oral presentation. A task weight choice might allow students to choose to have a project count for more of their final grade than a final exam. 

  • Explain to students how each assessment task will be assessed. Being transparent with students about how their learning will be assessed and helping them develop their understanding of what it means to meet assessment criteria has the potential to foster students’ ability to achieve the learning outcomes and increase their motivation to engage in learning. 


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Inclusive practices

Article in development. 


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Indigenous approaches to assessment

These resources address the role of assessment in Indigenous cultures and methods of assessing students’ learning in keeping with Indigenous knowledges and systems. 


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  1. ^ Fenwick, T., & Parsons, J. (2000). The art of evaluation: A handbook for educators and trainers. Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc. 
  2. ^ Suskie, L. (2018). Assessing student learning: A common sense guideJohn Wiley & Sons.