Assessment for Learning

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy

Photo Credit: Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy by dkuropatwa

This week’s materials call into question traditional assessment models, from end-of-semester exams and teacher-driven assessments to the traditional grading structures found in classrooms from kindergarten to graduate school. We also have several examples in which educators have used socially mediated technologies to provide more personalized and meaningful learning, as well as teacher reflections on their efficacy. What do you think about what you’ve read this week? Do traditional grading structures no longer have a place in our current and future learning environments? Is it even possible to move away from what Batson calls our “current legacy structure of testing and evaluation“?

As I’ve noted in a previous post on educational trends:

Well over a half a century ago, education psychologist Benjamin Bloom developed a way to frame learning goals by identifying the key intellectual skills necessary for learning to occur. Still in use today, the 1990’s saw its modification to reflect an emphasis on the active nature of learning.1 What you see above is the latest iteration of this classification system. As you’ll note, the visualization of this learning taxonomy shows the lowest cognitive level occupying the largest amount of real estate with the higher cognitive domains of analyzing, evaluating and creating occupying the smallest amount. Interestingly, Bloom found in the 1950’s that 95% of test questions only asked students to think at the lowest level of learning, information retrieval.2

It appears, however, that for enduring understandings to take place, we need to provide our students the opportunity to engage with concepts in multiple contexts:

Understanding the Concept

This week, as part of the process of brainstorming our individual classroom projects, we’ll consider the why, what and how of the assessment piece of our project. I’d like you to consider the following questions as you develop your learning experience:

  • Firstly, what key skills, understandings, and/or attitudes do you want your students to possess as the result of this project?
  • Secondly, what would serve as evidence of that mastery? This is where the assessment piece comes in. What performance tasks, projects, quizzes, self-assessments, observations or other evidence will show what your students know and are able to do?
  • And lastly, what learning experiences could provide your students with the opportunity to gain that competency? This, then, would be the web 2.0 environment you would use.

These questions reflect the core concepts of a ‘backwards design’ approach to creating effective learning environments as outlined by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their book, Understanding by Design. In this book, Wiggins and McTighe argue that only by first identifying the goals and assessments (the evidence of learning), and then working ‘backwards’ to design the syllabus and learning activities, can effective learning take place. And as evidenced-based learning outcomes become part of the higher educational landscape, it will be increasingly important for us to consider how, what and why we assess our students, our programs and our peers.

1Bloom’s Taxonomy by Heather Coffey.
2Kinetic connections: Bloom’s taxonomy in action by Bobby Hobgood, Melissa Thibault, and David Walbert.

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13 Responses to “Assessment for Learning”

  1. carsten01 Says:

    What made me most reflective in this week’s reading was Charles S. Maier sentence: “’Life is not structured like the exam anymore…”’ ( The test has been canceled: Final exams are quietly vanishing from college by Keith O’Brien).I believe he is right. The traditional way a course was/is set up is accustomed to a time when information was not as easily accessible as it is now. Given technology is provided –and in most instances it is- we can access information in an instant. For learners of languages this means that they can look up words or a declination in a relatively short amount of time. Thus the need to memorize huge quantities of information becomes abundant.
    Given this opportunity –a time compressed access to information- our assessment structure should meet this new reality. One way of doing so is to break up the final exam in several smaller “testing units” which accompany a course over the time of a semester. This would, as said, not only fit reality better, but also establish continuous repetition among students.
    In From Degrading to De-Grading , Alfie Kohn agrues that grading has a bad effect on Students. Although I agree that we need to change the way of grading I do not agree that grading at all is to be diminished. Grading is just a practical “tool” that is so deeply entrenched in education and the work world, that –for practical reasons- it will not become abundant. How is an employer , who has 300 applications for one position, able to quickly assess whom to invite for a personal interview? How can a instructor know –without having time to talk to each Student individually- which student is on the right level to enter his/her language class
    Changing the way of grading, meaning the way of assessing our students, would in my opinion also contribute to the problem of assessment in a virtual class environment. How can instructors be sure that a student is not cheating on a test or assignment in a virtual class, as the student is not physically present in the classroom? The answer is: “There is no way.” Instructors can only decrease the likelihood of cheating. If assessment is broken up in smaller units and these units have e.g. a time limit to be completed, the ratio of effort and gain to cheat decreases. If then e.g. journal entries or written compositions are changed in its essence (let’s say an essay changes to a blog) and brought close to each session of a course, then the likelihood of outsider information to be used to complete an assignment becomes fairly thin.

  2. Karen Zook Says:

    This comment isn’t related to the reading, but something that came up in last week’s class.

    XKCD just posted an updated Online Communities comic!

  3. melinaanne Says:

    The more we learn about the many, varied, and unusual ways to use technology in the classroom, and the more we discuss the future of learning and education in particular, the more the question of assessment has appeared to be a bit of a thorn in the side of these changes. In “The Testing Straitjacket”, Trent Batson describes our current system of testing and evaluation as “anachronistic”, something I am constantly aware of in my own teaching and learning. For example, I have had very dynamic, communicative lessons with students using Smartboard technology, in which they seem to grasp the concepts strongly, only to see this “mastery” of concepts disappear in front of a written exam that, to them, has nothing to do with way we examined the material in class. Batson refers to the importance placed on memorization in the way we test today, while the whole notion of Web 2.0 is that information is readily available, at any moment. What kind of skill is memorization, then, when the real skills of today are being able to ACCESS, DISCOVER, and INTERPRET information? Do we want students to learn to memorize or to learn to think and analyze? As long as grades exist, the difficulty seems to be in assessing something qualitative in a quantitative way.

    In the article “From Degrading to De-grading”, Alfie Kohn suggests abolishing grades altogether, or at least “helping students forget about grades.” While I don’t forsee many schools getting rid of grades altogether, at least in the near future, I do agree with the notion that grades should not be the be-all, end-all for students. Most students today, from kindergarten to the post-secondary level, have had the idea of grades ingrained into their heads from day one. As Kohn mentions in the article, they will be just as resistant to the elimination of these kinds of marks as many educators because it is what they know. Therefore, it is the teacher who must set the standard, hopefully with the collaboration of colleagues. If more than one teacher institutes a policy of “authentic assessment” (such as portfolios, projects, and other things beyond the typical system of testing), as Kohn puts it, students will adjust as the norms slowly change.

    Something else Kohn mentions, which ties into Barbara Sawhill’s blog post on her students’ final project, is the idea of student-led parent-teacher conferences. Both articles talk about the notion of self-assessment, something which I have found in my own experience to be very valuable. Teaching at the high school level last year, at the end of every quarter I had my students evaluate themselves in terms of their participation, preparation, and behavior for the class. They were given a rubric that described in detail the criteria for a 4 (the highest mark) down to a 1 (the lowest mark). They would rate themselves for each category (there were six). I was consistently impressed with the way there were able to evaluate themselves honestly—not even the most confrontational students gave themselves a 4 for behavior. This type of assessment makes students more accountable to themselves, and it makes the whole process of grading more collaborative, and less subjective.

    • Karen Zook Says:

      Something else Kohn mentions, which ties into Barbara Sawhill’s blog post on her students’ final project, is the idea of student-led parent-teacher conferences.

      The most intriguing thing, to me, about this concept is the visceral reaction I have to it. I like to think of myself as open to trying new techniques, but this one just made me send up a bit “NO!” signal, and, on further examination, I’m not sure that’s warranted.

      My initial aversion was something along the lines of, “But we can’t do that, because sometimes parents and teachers need to be able to talk about a student without that student being present.” Which is, of course, begging the question of Kohn’s initial argument. Why would we, as educators, insist that that’s something we need to do?

      Obviously for us, at the college level, FERPA (et al) means we aren’t speaking directly with parents of our students. Perhaps if educators at the pre-college level started addressing education concerns directly to students–that is, holding them truly accountable for their own learning–they might be in a better position to both hear criticism and self-advocate when they get to us.

      Except in a very few circumstances (I’m thinking some social issues that might need to be dealt with, such as “little Johnny seems to be having trouble making friends,” which is something Johnny might already know about himself but which might be fairly traumatic to hear from an authority figure), there shouldn’t be any secrets shared by parents and teachers to the exclusion of students. The conversation between the adults might occur on a different level, but that doesn’t mean the student should be excluded.

      One of the difficulties I face with my college students is that, when confronted with constructive criticism from me, they sometimes seem to disintegrate. That is, they just don’t know how to sit there and listen to an educator suggesting ways they can improve without taking it personally, becoming upset or belligerent, etc. How much easier would our job be if Suzy Student had grown up understanding that “Suzy needs to work on her spelling” means exactly that, and not “Suzy is an idiot child”? Often it seems that educators are afraid of being the ones to give bad news/hurt feelings (I’m guilty of that myself), but in that urge to protect the student from criticism we’re actually “protecting” them from getting the information they need to grow.

      • melinaanne Says:

        I completely see both sides of your point, Karen. The initial idea of student-led parent-teacher conferences (and other instances in which students are held accountable and responsible for their own education) seems daunting at first, and causes such strong reactions in educators like us because, well, our own experience was not like that. We probably all heard the news second-hand from our parents, and if it was good news, then the teacher was great, and if it was bad news, you were either in trouble or you blamed it on the teacher. My mother is a fourth grade teacher, and she has been doing student-led parent-teacher conferences for the last few years. She has only positive things to say about the experience, as she finds that the students truly benefit from being involved in the whole criticism/praise process. Not only does it teach them early on how to accept criticism gracefully, but it gives them a sense of ownership of the whole process. I think it’s important to recognize, too, what this all means for the role of the teacher. Not only does it relieve us in a way of “being the bad guy”, but it is also a good example of teachers “facilitating” rather than “commanding”. I think you’re right that there will always be some extreme situations that call for a private parent-teacher conference, but I think it’s a positive step to involve students in the process to show them that they are, in fact, just as responsible for their education as their parents and teachers.

      • claudiopi Says:

        You’ve drawn very good points, dear colleagues.
        In my opinion, the exclusion a priori of the student from a parent-teacher conversation shouldn’t occurr (except for special occasions/cases). The conversation itself should regard the learning process of the student and nobody has the certainty that the parent(s) (unintentionally or not) would be able either to assimilate the advice (they are not the subjects directly involved in the learning!) or to report it to the son or the daughter the correct way. When I was in high school, I still remember quite well those few occasions when I was let in the teacher’s office with my parent to talk about my learning performance. So, the idea about student-led parent-teacher conferences works, but it does inside a broader frame, where the main goal is preserving a concern for the student performance and not (like in Kohn’s idea) getting rid of an old and rusted grading system. It’s just not only about good and bad words. School itself is a regulated system. Every class must have micro-regulation systems that support teaching (grades). If that makes sense.

  4. aljarrash Says:

    As I know ,testing and giving grades is still used in most of the schools all over the world,especially in the third world countries.Technology is not widely used in those countries to help in getting the information and save time .All what they study is from text books and from their teachers in the classroom.They have to memorize and answer questions on exams and may forget everything right after the exam.
    As carsten01 said ‘to break up the course into smaller units and take a test on each may help in cheat decreasing’, but it may cause students forget the unit they took its test.
    I’m talking about classes that never know anything about technology,but in countries like America,students find it easy to access to the information sources and revise what they need in a short period of time .
    The aim of the test is to establish a progress has been made in the areas covered so far.But,the test may not give a valid picture of the student’s overall ability and understanding .Sometimes ,students may have comprehend the text and what was explained in the class but they are unable to express themselves clearly enough in the test to satisfy the test requirements.
    I think ,evaluation should be taken through the entire course time by assessing students participation,answering oral questions ,doing HW…..ETC. Teaching a language needs from the teacher to help students keep information by forcing them to do so,and testing from time to time ,orally and on papers will keep them up.

  5. Karen Zook Says:

    This is sort of bad form, but I posted last June after opting to give my students a take-home final. If you want to read it, it’s here:

    Take-home exams

    I’d like to go back and revise what I wrote in light of the material from this week, but haven’t had a chance yet.

    I was inspired by Shelly Blake-Plock‘s account of his collaborative, student-written exam (although I didn’t go quite that far in allowing students to design their own test, in large part because I think a world language course doesn’t lend itself quite so readily to that implementation).

    The takeaway, if you don’t want to read it, is that a take-home assessment in which the students are allowed to seek help from one another didn’t bring the education system down, and what I actually found was that many students opted to bring me into their collaboration, and were finally unlocking some of the issues that had been troubling them all semester. Especially when you think about a subject like Latin, for which, to the extent that there is a “real world” application, it certainly doesn’t come in the form of a timed, no-resources-allowed assessment. So, as far as I was concerned, the victory was that they were finally able to demonstrate mastery of the concept, even if that mastery was gained during the final itself. There’s no reason exams can’t be teaching tools, too; after all, if they don’t add anything to the students’ understanding of the material, they’re really just instructor-centered dead weight.

  6. jarcastillo Says:

    I was immediately drawn by Alfie Kohn’s assertion in “From degrading to de-grading” that you can tell a lot about an instructor based on how they feel about giving grades. I am one of those instructors conflicted by the (current) process of grading. This is perhaps in part because, as a student myself, I know the ramifications that a grade-point-average has not just in getting into college, but later on as you are applying for certain grants, scholarships, or fellowships. Like it or not, a number is always attached to our academic file. It is also no surprise how subjective the grading process is and as Kohn reminds us “any given assignment may well be given two different grades by two equally qualified teachers.” In our own hallways at UConn (at least within my section), it is common knowledge that getting a B+ with Professor X is like getting an A with any other professor. But I digress.

    As instructors, we ideally would like to move from a culture of “grading orientation” to “learning orientation.” I think there is some information that needs to be “memorized” even if students (or anyone for that matter) can access Google and find it in a fraction of a second, especially when you are teaching language. This semester I decided to give students “chapter quizzes” instead of a midterm exam that is usually given (in my section at least) for no other real reason than because it is the midpoint in the semester. The final exam is “traditionally” cumulative, but does not hold as much weight as their participation, homework, and class project. While keep these chapter quizzes as communicative as I can, I’m starting to wonder if I should also be giving the students simple, straight-forward vocabulary quizzes. This obviously goes back to the grading issue. What is your input?

    Teaching at a satellite campus has given me a little more freedom to try other approaches for grading. I’m employing “peer reviews” for writing assignments since I’m more concerned that students learn to find their own mistakes (self-reflection). I’m also rethinking their oral exam so that it gives greater emphasis on the speaking component of the assessment and less on the anxiety of an exam. Instead, I hope to minimize the importance of the grade, and as Kohn proposes, students will challenge themselves and do so creatively.

    • celeste2010 Says:

      Thanks to Diigo and of course to our professor Barbara Lindsey, I found these three interesting articles on Grading. Improvement on assessment is one of my main goals as an educator. That’s why I also decided to share those articles with the learning community I belong to right now.

      I absolutely agree with Jorge. Re-thinking our assessment methods is an excellent way of developing teaching strategies towards a student-centered class.
      I’m also doing the chapter quizzes (which worth a big amount of their final grade) and emphasizing the speaking content of the course as Jorge does. We have week discussions on the importance of learning and the reason of each assignment with students. On the other hand, I never stopped myself thinking about the mid-term but I will. So far I included a mid-term oral exam so students can evaluate themselves on that skill, with specific instructions that help them not to focus on the grade itself. Vocabulary and culture are always included in all quizzes, as grammar is. But it’s a good idea, as Jorge mentions, to have vocabulary quizzes or other kind of assessments on vocab since students usually feel more confident on their language skills if they have the tools to express what they want.

      I think the process of learning a language is that: “a process”, so the final exam shouldn’t be taking all the credit of the course. We should be grading equally all the process and during the process not only the end of the process. I remember having this interesting discussion at professor Lindsey’s class. By the way, professor’s Lindsey class was one of the most interesting and meaningful classes I took at UConn. I hope you enjoy it.

      • Barbara Says:

        Thank you so much, Celeste, for taking the time to share your experiences and thoughts on assessment and for showing us here how our communities of practice can transcend time and space. Providing students with authentic assessments in ways that support and reflect their learning more, as you note, as a process, and to actively involve them in the evaluation of their own learning as Karen and Melina discuss, might well help us and our students to experience our courses as part of a lifelong learning continuum and not as something to pass and be done with.

  7. ntrax84 Says:

    When I read “The Testing Straitjacket” by Trent Batson I immediately had to think about the way I learned English at school. My English teacher in 9th grade just graduated and tried to incorporate new ways of teaching and assessment that she just learned during her studies. Among other things she introduced the teaching portfolio mentioned in the article by Batson. The only difference: We did it offline instead of online. We stopped writing traditional vocabulary quizzes and the portfolio itself counted as one exam out of three. The teacher wanted us to reflect what we have learned (meta-congnitive skills) and as Batson says it “fully recognize the value of student discovery”. But sadly almost half of my classmates stopped to learn vocabulary because there weren’t any traditional quizzes anymore. Batson claims that “The two (the current legacy testing practices and the portfolio assessment practices)–cannot co-exist since they are opposite in all ways. One cannot both employ a portfolio in an important way and continue to test as always.” I do not really agree with it. In 10th grade my teacher did the portfolio AND regular tests and it worked out pretty good. Our grades improved as well as our language skills. This corresponds to what Jorge said in his post: “I think there is some information that needs to be “memorized” even if students (or anyone for that matter) can access Google and find it in a fraction of a second, especially when you are teaching language.” Because if that we still need to use traditional chapter or vocabulary quizzes. Especially because vocab and grammar are our tools. What do the others think?

    • jarcastillo Says:

      I think implementing both a portfolio and regular tests could be helpful for our students as we try to find the best possible way to assess them. Like Niko, I too disagree with Batson’s claim that “[t]he two (the current legacy testing practices and the portfolio assessment practices)–cannot co-exist since they are opposite in all ways. One cannot both employ a portfolio in an important way and continue to test as always.” One way I can think of that would incorporate this would be to have students take their tests/quizzes and correct their own mistakes. These corrections, along with their quizzes/tests could be incorporated into their portfolios. This semester I had my students correct their quizzes and resubmit them to me for an additional ten points. Of course not all students took advantage of this opportunity. I think it would have been much more beneficial for all students to correct their quizzes (as well as other work) and submit them in a portfolio where they could ideally start seeing patterns of their challenges, their strengths, and ultimately develop the meta-cognitive skills to reflect on what they were learning. In language classes where each semester builds on the knowledge of previous semesters, a portfolio with self-corrected work would be a great tool that students could continue to use.


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