Classroom assessment can include a wide range of options from minute papers, where students write down the important “take home” messages of the lesson, to administering comprehensive final exams. A good way to think of assessment is to consider formative assessment and summative assessment. Shute defines formative feedback (assessment) as the information communicated to the learner that is intended to modify his/her thinking or behavior for the purpose of improving learning.13 Formative feedback is intended to increase student knowledge, skills and understanding in some content area or general skill. Formative assessment is as important to the learning process as summative assessment (e.g., a test) – one could argue it is even more important since formative assessment allows students to scaffold learning as they work toward more advanced activities and to engage in more advanced thinking and problem solving than they could without such help.
Additionally, formative assessment provides the opportunity for students to improve on an assignment/project prior to receiving a final (summative) assessment. Research on formative assessment has consistently shown good feedback can significantly improve learning processes and outcomes. Cognitive mechanisms for which formative feedback may be used by a learner include: (1) it can signal a gap between a current level of performance and some desired level of performance or goal, (2) it can effectively reduce the cognitive load of a learner, especially novice or struggling students and (3) it can provide information that may be useful for correcting inappropriate task strategies, procedural errors, or misconceptions. An excellent review of the literature on formative assessment can be found in Shute’s article, Focus on Formative Feedback.
Summative assessment is assessment that looks at an end result rather than the process of getting to the result. Examples of summative assessment would be final examinations, or in a clinical setting in dental education, it would be competency testing.
McKeachie outlines nine assertions about assessing student learning that can provide guidance when considering assessment strategies when designing a course. They are as follows:
Research has shown teacher-made tests typically measure lower-level learning, e.g., factual and recall.11 Even while faculty want to see students develop higher-order cognitive skills, the tests that are used rarely measure these competencies. One strategy for good test construction is to develop a Table of Specifications where you list Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy levels along the top of the page and content areas along the side of the page. By developing this table it will become clear whether your test items are truly measuring learning at the level you are trying to achieve with your test (Table 7).
|Drug category||(Q #7)||1|
|Interactions, adverse reactions, contraindications||(Q #2)||(Q #10)||2|
|Dental implications||(Q #3)||(Q #8)||(Q #4)||3|
|OTC/pain medications||(Q #9)||1|
|Med consult or prophylactic antibiotic||(Q #1)||1|
|Potential emergency situations||(Q #5)||(Q #6)||2|
|Q: Question developed for test.|
Other methods of assessment can include such things as authentic and performance assessment. One example of performance assessment is portfolio assessment where evidence and subsequent student reflection provide insight into student learning and achievement. The value of reflection to the learning process has been emphasized by learning theory. Team projects provide another venue for assessment strategies that go beyond quizzes and tests.