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Assessing the Achievements of Learning


All of us who teach know that assessment practices drive learning. The first thing that students do when they are introduced to a syllabus or course outline is look to see how they will be assessed-- how they will earn credit or grades in the course. In addition, research tells us that feedback has a powerful influence on learning. As curriculum developers it is important that the assessment processes that we put into place support the learning process.

It is also important that assessment aligns with learning outcomes. In an outcomes-based learning environment the focus is on helping a variety of learners achieve learning outcomes. By definition, learning outcomes are performance-based. Learners must go beyond knowing to being able to show what they know. In short, well planned assessments allow learners to demonstrate that they have achieved the learning outcome(s) or provide feedback that identifies the progress they are making towards their achievement. There may be several ways to assess student learning but they should all be linked directly to the learning outcomes.

General Principles, Concepts, and Guidelines

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario has published a handbook related to the assessment of program learning outcomes. The handbook provides advise and further resources related to the assessment of critical thinking, problem solving and research skills.

This site from University of Guelph provides information about effective assessment practices including principles established by the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE).

There is also an interactive site that promotes reflection against these same nine principles.

A simple, ten point Assessment Manifesto that provides values and principles for assessment practices at any level. It is taken from the end section of 500 Tips on Assessment by Sally Brown, Phil Race and Brenda Smith, Kogan Page, 1996.

For those looking for more scholarly references, this online journal, Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation is a good starting point.

For more articles grounded in research but written for teachers with a practical perspective, try the New Horizons for Learning website. Just enter assessment or evaluation in the search engine on this site.

The Learning and Teaching Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University has published a newsletter that focuses on assessment.

Check out this site to view a workshop delivered at Queen's University by Sue Fostaty-Young entitled Purposeful Assessment for Intended Student Learning. In the workshop she describes the ICE Model (Ideas, Connections and Extensions). The site provides links to the workshop in a video format as well as materials that can be downloaded to support your learning and links to other resources. 

The Alberta Assessment Consortium provides a number of helpful resources related to assessment.

Performance Assessment/Authentic Assessment

James Foran et al (1992) in their text Effective Curriculum Planning: Performances, Outcomes and Standards offer guidelines for planning performance assessments. This list is adapted from their work.

  • Assessments should align directly with learning outcomes.
  • Assessments should require students to use their knowledge base, think critically and solve problems and emphasize knowledge construction, troubleshooting, elaboration and evaluation.
  • Assessments should reflect/relate to students' interests.
  • Just as all students learn differently, students may be able to demonstrate their learning differently as well.
  • Criteria should be provided for student self-evaluation.
  • Performances should be leveled
    • During course—applied exercises for monitoring development
    • End of unit of learning/course—demonstration of achievement of course learning outcome
    • End of program—demonstration of program level learning outcomes
  • The student should be allowed sufficient practice for each performance.
  • Where possible performances should be linked to "real world" experiences.
  • Assessments must allow students to exhibit their abilities.

This site provides a succinct description of performance assessment.

This site at Concordia University in Portland Oregon provides an overview of authentic assessment and some tips for implementation

Jon Mueller's site, Authentic Assessment Toolbox, is just that—a toolbox that provides a range of information and tips on creating authentic assessments.

This check list for authentic assessment in a learner-centered context (.pdf) was prepared by Jo Petite and Jessica Peterson from George Brown College.

Here is a checklist that can be used to help develop performance assessments.

A Checklist for Choosing Performance Tasks


  1. Does the task match the expected learning (learning outcome or course learning requirement)?
  2. Does the task adequately represent and elicit the content and skills you expect the student to attain?
  3. Does the task enable students to demonstrate their capabilities and progress?
  4. Does the assessment use "authentic", real world tasks?
  5. Does the task require the learner to integrate their learning?
  6. Can the task be structured to provide a measure of several outcomes?
  7. Does the task match an important outcome which reflects complex thinking skills?
  8. Does the task pose an enduring problem type-- the type the learner is likely to encounter in the future?
  9. Is the task fair and free of bias?
  10. Will the task be seen as meaningful by important stakeholders?
  11. Will the task be meaningful and engaging to students so that they will be motivated to show their capabilities?


Assessment Tools and Strategies

The research is clear. Providing students with constructive feedback contributes positively to learning. George Brown College has created a very useful guide with practical tips for giving students feedback

The University of Technology Sydney has a very helpful unit on Assessment that begins with the development of assessment criteria.  You will find a number of practical guides for assessment practices on this site.

The Prof's Resource site at Algonquin College has collected resources related to assessment. Click on Assessing Students to find descriptions and check lists for a number of different assessment methods and tools.

This PowerPoint developed by Kevin Rowcliffe, Loyalist College, Tammy Kerr, St. Lawrence College, and Heather Sago from Fleming College describes three creative assessment techniques—tandem testing, video role play and e-portfolio.

Understanding Rubrics— an article by Heidi Goodrich Andrade, originally published in Educational Leadership. It provides a description of rubrics and several examples.

At this site you will find an approach to instructional rubrics – using rubrics to promote thinking and learning by Heidi Goodrich Andrade.

This rubric to assess dance performance was developed and used by Janet Venn Jackson from St. Lawrence College.

A rubric template for technical projects was developed by Chuck Barsonby from Loyalist and Roger Davey and Richard Bringshaw from Algonquin.  They also provided an instruction sheet for using the rubric generator.

Enhancing the Teaching and Learning of Communications Skills in Core Program Courses:

In these two documents the team of Mary Collins, Jennifer Souch and Valerie Lapp from Durham College provides an overview of a collaborative single assignment that meets the outcomes for two different courses. This assignment was designed to be assessed by two professors (one a core program professor and the other a communications professor) with a grade being assigned for each student in both courses. 

Click here to view the rubric they used to assess the project.
Click here to view the introduction and overview of the collaborative process they used to create the assignment.

A helpful tip sheet discussing evaluation tools for nursing programs (.pdf) was developed by a team of nursing teachers from Ontario's colleges. Although directed to faculty in nursing programs, many of the ideas here are applicable to other program areas.

Ann Davies is a recognized expert in assessment. Her website contains much useful information and links to resources for assessment. While the focus is on elementary and secondary education, many of the ideas and tools are transferable to postsecondary education. 

This site from the Institute for Teaching and Learning at Queen’s University provides an overview of rubric development including examples.

Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe wrote Understanding by Design. They suggest a "backwards design" process that teachers can use to create curriculum including assessment decisions. A brief overview of the concepts they present can be found at edtech4schools.

More detailed review of Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design.

David Thibideau from Algonquin College and Coleen MacDonald from St. Lawrence College explored the use of peer feedback when using group assessments. Their report includes a sample rubric.

Another example of a tool to collect peer feedback was developed by Don Fishley from Durham College and Pat Marcotte from Fleming College.  Their tool was designed to collect feedback from students working on a project in technical programs.

Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) recognizes learning that has been achieved from work and life experiences. This advising guide was developed by a cross-college team of faculty who participated in the 2012 ABC Program.

Questions to consider when assessing your assessment practices

These questions were developed by participants who took part in ABC programs.


  • Do the assessment strategies match/ reflect the learning outcomes?
  • Does the evaluation plan allow learners to demonstrate the achievement of the learning outcomes?
  • Are there assessment strategies that provide learners with feedback at regular intervals as they progress toward the achievement of the outcomes?
  • Are there a variety of assessment strategies that meet the unique needs of your learners?
  • Is there an opportunity for PLAR? If so, is PLAR based on a demonstration of the learning outcome(s) and are the assessment method(s) explained?
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