Assessment for Learning

In their handbook for course-based review and assessment, Martha L. A. Stassen et al. define assessment as “the systematic collection and analysis of information to improve student learning” (2001, p. 5). An intentional and thorough assessment of student learning is vital because it provides useful feedback to both instructors and students about the extent to which students are successfully meeting learning objectives.

Not only does effective assessment provide us with valuable information to support student growth, but it also enables critically reflective teaching.

Critical reflection on one’s teaching is an essential part of developing as an educator and enhancing the learning experience of students.

Stephen Brookfield, 1995

One important lens through which we may reflect on our teaching is our student evaluations and student learning assessments. This reflection allows educators to determine where their teaching has been effective in meeting learning goals and where it has not, allowing for improvements.

Student assessment, then, both develop the rationale for pedagogical choices, and enables teachers to measure the effectiveness of their teaching.

Types of Assessments

Summative assessment is implemented at the end of the course of study. It is often useful for communicating final evaluations of student achievement, it does so without providing opportunities for students to reflect on their progress, alter their learning, and demonstrate growth or improvement; nor does it allow instructors to modify their teaching strategies before student learning in a course has concluded (Maki, 2002).

Formative assessment involves the evaluation of student learning at intermediate points before any summative form. Formative assessment includes all manner of coursework with feedback, discussions between instructors and students, and end-of-unit examinations that provide an opportunity for students to identify important areas for necessary growth and development for themselves (Brown and Knight, 1994).

Methods of Student Assessment

Assessment can vary widely from informal checks on understanding, to quizzes, to blogs, to essays, and to elaborate performance tasks such as written or audiovisual projects (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

In this video, faculty that teach in a variety of disciplines at MCC describe how they assess student learning. Click on the three lines on the top right side of the video to access the full playlist.

Below are a few common methods of assessment identified by Brown and Knight (1994) that are important to consider.

  • Essays
  • Exams
  • Projects
  • Self-Assessment
  • Peer-Assessment

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Assessment Practice

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework that categorizes education goals by cognitive domains (depth of knowledge). The verb in your learning outcomes (course competencies or objectives) should align with the type of assessment that you use.

Resource: Bloom’s Taxonomy and Associated Assessments and Verbs

Assessment is More than Grading

It is not uncommon to conflate assessment with grading, but this would be a mistake. Student assessment is more than just grading. Assessment links student performance to specific learning objectives in order to provide useful information to students and instructors about learning and teaching, respectively. Grading, on the other hand, according to Stassen et al. (2001) merely involves affixing a number or letter to an assignment, giving students only the most minimal indication of their performance relative to a set of criteria or to their peers: “Because grades don’t tell you about student performance on individual (or specific) learning goals or outcomes, they provide little information on the overall success of your course in helping students to attain the specific and distinct learning objectives of interest” (Stassen et al., 2001, p. 6).


Fisher, M. R., Jr., & Bandy, J. (2019). Assessing Student Learning. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [todaysdate] from