Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Making Informed Choices: A Model for Comprehensive Classroom Assessment

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Making Informed Choices: A Model for Comprehensive Classroom Assessment

Article excerpt


An interdisciplinary team of sixteen faculty designed a research-based, comprehensive classroom assessment model which provides professors with a framework for making informed choices about assessing student learning. The three-year inquiry resulted in the development of a model with a five-step process, supportive planning grids, and resources to facilitate implementation of comprehensive assessment in the college classroom. Diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment methods and scoring tools are linked to learning outcomes, levels of thinking, and student characteristics. This article describes the process involved in the design and implementation of a campus-wide assessment model and its impact on the teaching/learning culture.


Historically, assessment at the college/university level has been used to judge the quality of student work and assign grades (Guskey, 1988). While this is a necessary function in most institutions of higher learning, it should not be the only one. Assessment in the college classroom must have the fundamental purpose of improving student learning.

Student learning encompasses the ability to understand and apply the knowledge and skills learned to new contexts. If students truly understand, they should be able to demonstrate, explain, and interpret information in a variety of ways. Understanding requires students to view new content through the filter of prior knowledge and personal values, integrating it using a consciously critical perspective (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). This type of student understanding goes beyond being able to reproduce facts and summarize content; thereby, expanding the role of assessment further than merely the determination of a grade. When assessment is linked to understanding, it becomes a complex, multi-faceted process, one in which both the student and the teacher are actively involved (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Change in how assessment is viewed is closely linked to increased understanding about how students learn. The current thinking is supported by research on learning styles (e.g., Dunn, 1990; Silver, Strong, & Perini, 1997; Smeaton, P., Mueller, S. & Waters, F., 2000), multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1993; Goleman, 1995), and brain-based learning (Jensen, 1998; Sylwester, 1995). When the academic content is embedded in an authentic context in a variety of ways, students remember it longer and have a richer understanding, allowing them to connect discrete pieces of the information to the larger ideas (Caine & Caine, 1991). The research and theories also indicate that instructors need to employ a variety of teaching strategies to meet the diverse learning needs of students. As professors utilize a variety of instructional methods, they begin to see the need for comprehensive classroom assessment and, in fact, realize that assessment and instruction are interwoven.

Research on teaching and learning strongly supports the movement toward comprehensive and non-traditional assessment (Angelo & Cross, 1993; Costa & Kallick, 1995; Kane, Khattri, Reeve, & Adamson, 1997). There is overwhelming evidence suggesting a need to shift from relying solely on traditional summative assessments, such as written tests and term papers to ongoing use of alternative assessments, such as simulations, portfolios, case studies, performances, and projects (Johnson, 1996; Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). Alternative assessments such as these mirror the more student-centered instructional strategies that have been shown to increase student achievement (Fogarty 1997). The utilization of these alternative methods gives a clearer picture of what students actually understand rather than what they have just memorized. Providing a variety of assessment methods and student choice allows students to demonstrate their knowledge using vehicles that are responsive to their learning needs.

Individual efforts in implementing alternative and comprehensive assessment techniques have been documented by college and university teachers throughout the country (Malinowski, 1994; Monson, 1997; Moscovi & Gilmer, 1996; Reynolds, 1998; Sparapani 1997; and Wolcott, 1999). …

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