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Teaching Tip: Choose Your Assessments Based On Student Learning Goals

04 Mar 2014 9:47 PM | Anonymous

By Emily A. A. Dow

Despite the heightened attention to high-stakes testing and assessment, it is unclear how or why higher education instructors select particular assessment strategies in their classrooms.  In my casual conversations with fellow psychology graduate students about their teaching experiences, I have come to understand that my colleagues sometimes choose assessment strategies based on features of the course: multiple choice exams are a natural default for large course sections; pop quizzes take away from lecture time and the demand to get through specific material; there is simply not enough time to grade short answer assignments.  Their choice in using specific assessment tools is driven by course design and not necessarily by student learning goals.

Boyson (2012) notes that it is unsuitable when student assessments are unrelated to learning objectives: “[for example], it would be incongruent to have objectives related to written communication and not grade students on their writing skills (p. 11).”  This may seem to be an obvious link, but perhaps not.  Often, higher education instructors have little or minimal training in designing courses and making effective decisions about assessment tools.  Emerging higher education teachers may not readily link assessment strategies with learning goals or objectives.  Perhaps their choice of assessment strategies is more related to their beliefs about student assessment than to learning goals or objectives.

At the Graduate CenterDr. Maureen O’Connor and I are currently collecting qualitative and quantitative evidence about assessment strategies across diverse CUNY classrooms. In a two-phase research project, instructors at CUNY were asked about their assessment strategies. Results from an in-depth focus group revealed that while a variety of assessment tools are used by psychology instructors at CUNY (both novice and experienced), participants had difficulty making the connection between their selected assessment strategies and the learning goals established for a hypothetical course. To better understand this gap between the use of assessment tools and learning outcomes, we are surveying graduate student instructors to: (1) identify types of assessment tools used in higher education; (2) examine the connection between learning outcomes and assessment tools; and, (3) collect information about different philosophies or approaches to assessment.

We are excited to present our preliminary results at the Eastern Psychological Association conference in Boston on March 15 (Symposium Title: Turning Teaching into Research: Examples from the GSTA).  Results from this research will help inform graduate student training in teaching, and emphasize the need for explicit instruction and discussion about the link between assessment strategies and learning objectives.  If nothing else, instructors in higher education should be aware of this link when designing effective course syllabi. 

If you would like more information about this project, please contact Emily A. A. Dow, MA at

References: Boysen, G.A. (2012). A Guide to Writing Learning Objectives for Teachers of Psychology. Society for Teaching in Psychology. RetrievedFebruary 24, 2014, from


  • 06 Mar 2014 7:35 PM | MsSimpsonian
    Can't wait to chat with you about some of these preliminary results during EPA!
    Link  •  Reply
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