The Assessment Toolbox
Assessment is the process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs. In order to gather evidence of student learning, a variety of assessment methods, direct and indirect, qualitative and quantitative methods, should be used to give adequate feedback to the program to identify strengths and weaknesses (Maki, 2004)
Authentic assessment drives the curriculum. That is, teachers first determine the tasks that students will perform to demonstrate their mastery, and then a curriculum is developed that will enable students to perform those tasks well, which would include the acquisition of essential knowledge and skills. This has been referred to as planning backwards (McDonald, J. P. (1992). Dilemmas of planning backwards: Rescuing a good idea. Teachers College Record, 94, 152-169.)
Classroom Assessment Techniques are usually simple, non-graded, anonymous, in-class activities designed to give instructors and students useful feedback on the teaching-learning process as it is happening. The standard references on CATs is Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd edition, by Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross (Jossey-Bass, 1993). This book includes 50 CATs, indexed in a variety of useful ways. Some of the most common CATs:
- The Background Knowledge Probeis a short, simple questionnaire given to students at the start of a course, or before the introduction of a new unit, lesson or topic. It is designed to uncover students’ pre-conceptions.
- The Minute Paper tests how students are gaining knowledge, or not. The instructor ends class by asking students to write a brief response to the following questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and “What important question remains unanswered?”
- The Muddiest Point is one of the simplest CATs to help assess where students are having difficulties. The technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, film, etc.]?” The term “muddiest” means “most unclear” or “most confusing.”
- The What’s the Principle? CAT is useful in courses requiring problem-solving. After students figure out what type of problem they are dealing with, they often must decide what principle(s) to apply in order to solve the problem. This CAT provides students with a few problems and asks them to state the principle that best applies to each problem.
- Defining Features Matrix: Prepare a handout with a matrix of three columns and several rows. At the top of the first two columns, list two distinct concepts that have potentially confusing similarities (e.g. hurricanes vs. tornados, Picasso vs. Matisse). In the third column, list the important characteristics of both concepts in no particular order. Give your students the handout and have them use the matrix to identify which characteristics belong to each of the two concepts. Collect their responses, and you’ll quickly find out which characteristics are giving your students the most trouble.
There are numerous websites with examples of CATs. Below are just a few:
- Examples of CATs from the National Teaching and Learning Forum
- More Examples of CATs from Honolulu Community College.
- CATs for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math from the Field-Tested Learning Assessment Guide
Use of Results
Learning Assessment Tool
Direct Assessment: Require students to produce work to see how well they meet the expectations.
Indierect Assessment: Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning experiences.
Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) (a downloadable PDF)
Choosing the Right Assessment Tool by the RP Group