TEACHING NOTES: So, why are we assessing?

In the last couple of months, we have looked at students assessing themselves (Student self-assessment – can we trust them to … ?) and each other (Peer assessment) – but why do we assess them? Seems kind of an obvious question, doesn’t it? Surely, it’s to find out what they have learnt? Well … yes and no. Discovering where students are in their current understanding is important (and at this time of year, crucial). As well as finding out where students’ learning is at now (assessment of learning), assessment can help shape students’ current learning behaviour (assessment as learning) and future learning (assessment for learning). Assessment and learning are closely linked, with feedback providing a crucial link.

From a student perspective, assessment is an opportunity to receive feedback on their progress to date and how to move forward. For final assessments, this might involve feedback for students to use in subsequent topics or to incorporate into professional practice for a final topic.

There are also other ways we can use the outcomes from student assessment. We can reflect on these outcomes as part of:

  • trying to solve a problem in our teaching (e.g. lack of engagement, poor critical thinking)
  • discovering if we need to change our teaching direction (e.g. evaluating different pedagogical choices)
  • ascertaining the student experience of learning (e.g. how effective the learning environment is for particular activities)
  • providing information to institutional and external stakeholders on student learning (e.g. for internal course accreditations and professional accreditations).

As we move into grading final assignments, it’s timely to consider the role of assessment for our students, ourselves, our topics and the course/s they feed into.

So how can we maximise value out of our assessments? Well, consider a wider range of uses for assessment:

  • Can you use assessment to contribute evidence as part of your contribution to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)?

SoTL views teaching as a site of inquiry, where we can make discoveries about student learning to improve our own classrooms and advance higher education teaching. This information can be shared with peers through collegial discussion, communities of practice or publication.

  • Can you use assessment as part of a professional portfolio evidencing your effectiveness as a teacher?

Many of us apply for promotion or awards and we all have performance reviews. As well as the formal Student Evaluation of Teaching, assessment design and results can provide good evidence of our effectiveness as teachers and our reflective practice.

So, whilst we move through the grading-intensive period of this semester, here are some questions to consider:

  • How well did the learning activities prepare students for undertaking the assessment?
  • What feedback will you provide to students to feed forward into their next topics or into the workplace?
  • What are your assessments telling you about your students’ achievement of the learning outcomes?
  • How effectively does the overall topic assessment integrate into the course/s learning outcomes?

Adapted from ‘Determining your purpose for assessing student learning’, Tomorrow’s Teaching and Learning (message number 1683).


Barkley, E. F., & Howell Major, C. (2016). Learning assessment techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Written by Cassandra Hood and Dr Don Houston
Academic Developers – CILT

Posted in
Teaching Notes

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