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NESCent Postdoc Professional Development Series
on Effective Teaching and Learning
Session 7 – Testing, Assessment and Grading
October 20th, 2006
NESCent - Durham, NC
The ONE Thing You Should Take Away From
Today’s Session…
Learning objectives should
determine assessment
strategies, not vice versa!
General philosophies of assessment and
grading; testing styles
“Teaching Goals Inventories” and their
use in designing assessment strategies
Techniques for assessing content
knowledge (traditional and “alternative”)
Potential pitfalls in grading and
assessment strategies
References and resources
Assessment: A Definition
The collection and analysis of information
used to indicate how/how much students
are learning.
Examples of assessments: tests, quizzes,
assignments, projects, tasks, activities,
It is a process, not an event.
Provides information about instructor(s),
as well as students.
Should be used to provide students with
feedback on their progress, strengths,
weaknesses, etc.
Should be used to identify necessary
changes in instructional methods, styles.
Formative vs. Summative Assessment
Formative Assessment: Done throughout
course (including very beginning). Used
to improve quality of student learning.
(Exs. Non-graded (or minimally graded)
quizzes, “minute papers”, student
Summative Assessment: “End of Class”
testing. Comprehensive, provides
Testing Styles
Just as students have different “learning
styles”, they also have different “testing
Be aware of this, respect it, but don’t
cater your course or assessment plan to
a particular testing style.
Best approach: Develop a strategy that
assesses as many testing styles as
possible, within reason.
“Teaching Goals Inventory”
Identify and characterize learning goals.
Use a TGI tool to accomplish this
Examples of learning goals: basic
knowledge, higher-order thinking, critical
thinking, career prep/professional
development, etc.
Develop formative and summative
assessements to evaluate learning
Techniques and Methods
Traditional assessment and testing
– What are some examples?
– What are some strengths/weaknesses of
“Alternative” testing methods – A case
What Do I Want From My Students?
• Demonstrate a comprehensive
understanding of topics covered in the
• Synthesize concepts into a “big picture”.
• Explain at a level that is appropriate for
target audience.
The Idea…
Explain Immunology by writing a
children’s story, along the lines of
“The Magic Schoolbus” series.
Magic School Bus: Observations
• Complex scientific concepts are addressed.
• Concepts are explained thoroughly,
accurately and at a level that is
appropriate for the target audience.
• The target audience knows less about the
topic than the author.
The Details
• Students are given three topics from which
to choose. These topics overlap and each is
• Exam is take-home. It is assigned with 2-3
weeks left in the semester and is due on the
day of the scheduled final.
• Any books, notes, handouts may be used.
• Students are required to illustrate their story,
but it is heavily emphasized that they will not
be graded on artistic ability.
• Scope (40%)
• Accuracy (40%)
• Creativity (20%)
The Results…
Student Attitudes Regarding This
Like Format
Dislike Format
Student Comments
At first I thought “Oh…a children’s book…piece of cake”. But, as I
started outlining what I wanted to say, I started to really have to think
about the T cell process and how to say it all effectively. It is HARD!
I think it will really help me to retain what I’ve learned in the course. I
remember very little from most of my college classes because I couldn’t
remember the basics. This should cement the fundamentals for me.
I like the fact that we get to take what we know and make sure we
know it by explaining it to others.
It forces you to really understand the concepts while allowing room for
creativity (something you rarely get to use in science courses).
I have never had a final in which we had to think like that, which was
not just refreshing, but fun as well. I found a lot of gaps in what I have
learned over the semester by doing this assignment, which caused me
to work pretty hard…once I finished…I felt proud of what I had done.
Student Comments
I think it is a good tool to test my immunological knowledge, but it is
too shallow, not testing my understanding of immunology thoroughly
Not too happy with it. I think there may be some bias when it comes
to grading over who’s more artistic.
The final exam is idiotic and rewards creativity and writing ability more
than actual knowledge of the subject matter. I think this final is an
unfair way to test students.
Potential Pitfalls
Testing/assessment shapes content or
learning objectives
Testing students on content not covered
Failure to provide CLEAR expectations and
Failure to develop and adhere to a rubric
Failure to give students a chance to
“practice” multiple times (with feedback!)
Some Good Resources…
• Classroom Assessment Techniques
(1993), Angelo and Cross
• Effective Grading: A Tool for
Learning and Assessment (1998),
Walvoord and Anderson

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