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The Assessment of Student Learning policy seeks to ensure that assessments are transparent, applied consistently, and are congruent with course learning outcomes; and that students receive an accurate and fair assessment of their work.

Learn more about assessments

Effective Assessment Strategies

Assessment of student work is perhaps the most important part of our role as teachers. Ideally, assessments should be aligned to course outcomes, so when we design assessments it’s important to think of them as opportunities for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned. At the same time, these same assessments can tell us if our teaching has been effective or not. Thus, the fact that students may have scored poorly on a test (or on a particular question on a test) may not be a sign that they did not grasp a particular concept; instead, it may be a signal to us that we need to spend more time teaching a particular idea or to think of different ways to teach it, especially if many students made the same error.

We often think that the goal of an assessment is to assign students a mark, but the most important part of any assessment is the feedback you give to students on what they did well and how they can improve. The College’s office of Academic Excellence has developed a good resource on how to give students feedback on their learning.

It's also important to keep in mind that, properly speaking, the assessment of student work goes beyond how we design any one assignment or test. A better approach is to consider assessment as a strategy. The following seven principles for effective assessments were provided by teaching and learning expert Dr. Maryellen Weimer in a presentation she conducted at the college in 2009:

Effective Assessments

  1. Should measure students’ attainment of learning outcomes.
  2. Measure the level of student success.
  3. Are varied so that there is more than one type of assessment used in a course.
  4. Connect the way students learn and the way they’re assessed.
  5. Consist of Formative and Summative types.
  6. Should be transparent, telling students the evaluation plan (methods, timing, rubrics, etc.) from the beginning of the course.
  7. Are aligned to course outcomes.

The Purpose of Assessment

Summative Assessments

The term “summative” assessment once described a formal assessment, usually an exam, that was administered at the end of a term or school year. These days, however, a summative assessment can be an assignment or test that counts toward students’ final grades in a course. It’s something done for marks. Examples of summative assessments with which we’re probably already familiar are

  • Tests
  • Exams
  • Research Papers
  • Capstone Projects
  • In-class Demonstration

Formative Assessments

A formative assessment, on the other hand, is developmental in nature. Even if a formative assessment is awarded a small mark for completion, the purpose is different from a summative assessment. It serves to provide timely and precise feedback to students on a particular aspect of a lesson that you can use to augment their learning by providing greater or more detailed instruction. A formative assessment is also a good opportunity to check for basic understanding of key concepts and facts. (Angelo & Cross, 1993) The most commonly used types of formative assessments are

  • The muddiest point
  • The one-minute paper
  • K-W-L Chart
  • The Exit Pass

Visit HelpfulProfessor to find out how you can use them in class and to explore other formative assessment activities. You can also use educational technologies like Kahoot!, Socrative, and Padlet for more engaging activities.

Practitioners of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are also familiar with the importance of formative assessment as it is an essential part of the scaffolded instruction process. UDL also champions reflection on summative assessment as a key avenue of learner action and expression. One strategy here is to consider allowing students options on how they’re assessed.

Assessment Strategies

The teaching and learning literature often refers to testing as the “traditional” assessment technique. This is because, in many disciplines, testing remains the main (and in some cases only) way of evaluating student learning, and this might be for a variety of reasons, usually because of the demands of external accrediting agencies.

Visit the interactive module on “Grading Student Work” to find out more about creating a more effective assessment strategy in your course.

As an assessment method, however, tests are not without their limitations. Often, they assess only lower-level thinking skills, i.e. memory and recall, and are deployed without due consideration of the course learning outcomes or instructional approaches. Also, as evidenced during the pandemic, an over-reliance on testing, especially in a remote or fully online setting, makes cheating a lot easier.

To be sure, there are steps we can take to help us integrate testing into a more robust assessment plan. Here are some ideas:

  • Write tests so that they evaluate Higher-Order Thinking Skills (“hit the HOTS"). The “Writing Better Multiple-Choice Tests” handbook available from the TLX can help.
  • Incorporate tests as part of a wider evaluation scheme that starts with class or group preview sessions and ends with individual student review activities.
  • Use take-home tests and exams that acknowledge and leverage student collaboration and reward reflection.

You may also want to consider using assessments other than tests whenever possible. During the pandemic, many teachers experimented with alternative assessment methods that set up the assessment itself as a learning opportunity. These were based on the principles of authentic assessment, which evaluates whether the student can adequately transfer the knowledge and skills gained in the classroom to “real-life” contexts and situations. Authentic assessments embody all the seven principles of effective assessment discussed earlier. In addition, authentic assessments

  • Ask students to perform a variety of tasks.
  • Look more like activities that would be performed in a work or “real world” setting.
  • Demand critical and creative thinking, not just recall facts.
  • Often entail a reflective component.
  • Allow for consultation and feedback.

Alternative Assessment


Reconsidering whether to keep your tests as they were prior to the disruption? Here are some things to consider:

  • No on-campus proctoring services are currently available, so treat every test as open book
  • Not all students will have access to computers to take the test. Many will only have their phones.


A way to practice Universal Design for Learning

What is alternative assessment?

Assessment is a measure of what has been learned. It is a demonstration of how learners have integrated their learning and can use it. 

Alternative assessments are, in a way, defined by what they are not – they are not traditionally used quizzes and exams. Alternative assessments respond to the critique that while traditional forms of assessments may be able to capture what a learner knows about a topic, they often fail to capture the learner's ability to apply that knowledge in diverse contexts, to synthesize it with other knowledge, to create new ways to use that knowledge, and to evaluate it.  

By Elena Chudaeva, CC BY


    If an online test is not ideal under the current disruption consider whether there is another way to assess your students. If you would like support in devising alternatives, consider contacting an Instructional Designer or UDL Specialist for consultation.

    Brightspace has a lot of great resources to assist faculty in converting their face-to-face tests for the online environment.

    See the Brightspace Resources page for more information.

    Accommodations and Settings

    Contact a UDL or Accessibility Specialist for questions such as:

    • I have students who need accommodations. How can I set that up?
    • Can I change access for just one student?

    Sample Alternate Assessments

    Here is by no means an exhaustive list of alternate exams and assignments that incorporate the principles of authentic assessment and can be used in an online or conventional classroom setting:

    • Student-Created Midterms: Allow the students (individually or in groups) to create an exam along with the rubrics for evaluating responses. We know that when students can teach a topic then they have learned it well, and this could also provide new exam questions or quizzes for a later semester.
    • Gallery Walk Exams: Ask each student to create a video (or Sway or Padlet). Then, other students view and peer review the items as if it were a gallery walk.
    • Oral/Video Exams: Have students respond to a particular prompt and record it. Give time limits, and students can have as many tries as they need (before a deadline) to record and upload their answer(s).
    • Op-Ed Style Articles: Get students to write an article, helping them show that they understand both sides of an issue and can explain it to a particular audience.
    • Social Media Platform Exam: Have students think about your course as a “brand” and come up with their own social media posts that would demonstrate their knowledge of this brand.
    • Wikipedia Entry: Students can write a Wikipedia article. Great opportunity to learn who and how this resource is developed and maintained.

    These above examples illustrate the creative options that teachers can provide students to demonstrate their learning in ways that draw on other skills and prior knowledge. Some of these ideas would also be suitable for an online or blended course. Obviously, the example assignments above don’t support all learning outcomes, so some experimentation and adjustment might be needed. A test or an assignment can itself be a learning experience for students as much as it is an evaluation of their learning. 


    Discussions about the assessment of student learning at George Brown should start with a consideration of the “Assessment of Student Learning Policy.