Assessment Rocks

Getting Started with Assessment

John Candy attemps the Old 96erThey say getting started is the hardest part. To me, finishing is usually the hardest part, especially if you are trying to pack down 96 ounces of prime aged beefsteak.

Wherever you may find your challenges in assessment - maybe it's getting to the meat of the work, or maybe it's trying to chew your way through that last 10 ounces of fat and gristle - below are some step-by-step tips to help make your project a success.

Step 1: Define your Assessment Project's Goal

GOOOOOOOOAAAAALS!!!! We all want them. Few have them. Your assessment project needs goals because: A) they provide direction for every decision you will make throughout the project and help ensure your project is meaningful and provides value and B) without goals, your project will never be finished.

The best assessment project goals are linked directly to something you care about. If it is something you care about, then you will be more likely to do something with the resuts (see step 5).     

 Bad assessment goal example: Do a bunch of stuff and give it to the Assessment Office so they will stop calling me. 

Good assessment goal example: What can we do to improve students' ability to write publishable academic papers?  

Step 2: Design the Assessment Project

There is no one right way to design an assessment project. Anyone who tells you this is likely trying to sell you a book. 

Your goal: Get credible information that you can use to address your assessment goal. 

You are NOT designing a gold-standard, double-blind, peer-reviewed, NIH-certified research project. 

So whatever you decide to do, keep it simple, keep it meaningful, and keep it manageable. 

If things don't go well the first time, you can fix it and try again!  

Step 3: Select Meaningful,  Accurate, and Credible Assessment Instruments

There's no shortage of assessment instruments. Searching "writing rubric" on Google returns 119,000,000 results. If you were in high school in the 1990s, you know that there are 525,600 minutes in a year. That means you would have to review 226 rubrics per minute, for an entire year, without a break, to discover that none of them match exactly what you want to assess. 

So instead of wasting your time perusing various rubrics on 'Critical Civic Teamwork Engagement' (this is considered worse than solitary confinement in some countries), you need to figure out what assessment instruments will be meaningful, accurate, and credible.

If you will be presenting your results to someone else (or to a committee), start by trying to figure out what they would deem meaningful, accurate, and credible. 

For some users of assessment results, this might be a 4-hour, computer-based standardized test. 

Others, however, might be happy enough looking at scores from a rubric you created on the back of a napkin at 2 AM at White Castle.  

Remember the rigor of your assessment should match the consequences of the decisions that the results will be used to support. Thursday's 10-point pop-quiz on the Roman Empire? Low levels of rigor needed. Deciding who will be licensed to deliver babies? High rigor needed.  

More rigorous assessments almost always require more cost and more time. So unless you have money to burn (or a University Purchasing Card), match the level of rigor needed to your planned use of results. 

Focusing on selecting meaningful, accurate, and credible assessments that are at a sufficient level of rigor (and therefore cost and time), is essential to the effective assessment project.   

Step 4: Analyze Results

This is where many assessment projects get stuck. 

The desire to over-analyze assessment results is hard to resist. 

Stop shopping for expensive, highly-technical, complex software tools to analyze your assessment results.

It can be as simple as taking the completed assessments and sorting them into piles based on performance level.

If you want more detail, you can create a simple Excel table with the results by each rubric category. If you want to get fancy you can even create some Pivot Tables to break results out by student characteristics or by course section.

But again, keep it simple and meaningful and focused on addressing your assessment project's purpose. 

While it might be interesting to you to know that the Tuesday / Thursday section scored 0.003% lower on "written voice" than the Monday / Wednesday section, no one else is going to care (not even your mom - trust me on this).

      Then be done with your analysis. You can always come back to it later (you won't) and try to gleam other gems of wisdom from your data (there are none). But don't waste too much time over-analyzing your results because, if you do, you will not have enough time to use the results for anything meaningful (which was the whole point of this in the first place!).      

Step 5: Communicate and Use Results

Once you have your assessment results you will need to share them with others. 

The standard communication tool is the written "Assessment Report." If this works for you or is required by your institution, then go for it. 

Otherwise, be creative. 

Know your audience. What will hold their attention? 

While I would love to see your TikTok assessment dance to Lizzo, if your audience isn't on TikTok, that probably won't work. 

Your goal with communciating results is to help your audience understand and make use of results.

What decision can your results help inform? 

We don't need more dusty binders of un-used assessment reports. 

When you focus on helping people use your assessment results, you will find a good way to communicate those results.  

Then, take action! It might be changing a course, changing your teaching, changing program requirements, or changing the assessment (or all of these). 

Don't just stand there, do something!  

Step 6: Celebrate Successes and Follow-through on Improvements

When you finish your assessment project, CELEBRATE. 

You did it! Despite the odds, you finished your assessment project. 

("Look to your left, look to your right. Only one of the three of you will successfully complete an assessment project this year.") 

Follow-through on the decisions you made in Step 5. Because the only thing worse than not identifying any actions from an assessment project is to have identified actions that you did not follow-through.   

Remember to write down what went well with your project this year and what didn't work. 

Then think about what important issues you need to address next. 

Because it's now time to start the next assessment cycle!  

The Four Horsemen of the Assessmentocalypse

Jumping horse

Ready to for the assessmentocalypse?

Assessment Implementation Checklists

Rock and roll guitar

Using checklists to supports effective assessment

Conference Presentation Materials


See materials from recent shows