Summative Assessment of Students


When asked about what could help improve their learning in a course, students often mention clear expectations, consistent feedback, and examples as helpful.  Rubrics communicate clear high expectations and grading guidelines, make sure grading is consistent and impartial, and help diminish or eliminate implicit bias from grading.  "Rubrics are a quick way to give learners specific feedback and allow you to develop consistent grading practices from one learner to the next."1  More importantly, rubrics share a dual role, similar to a bridge between the instructor and students.  On one side, rubrics help the instructor set and communicate clear and specific high expectations, and on the other side, rubrics help students focus their learning on what they are expected to learn.  Rubrics can be used for assignments, teams, or projects.

Additionally, by providing an example of a completed assignment that is of the highest quality, students can see what exemplary works looks like.  One method to show student examples is to collect examples from students in your previous class and post them online for current students to have an idea of what is expected.

NOTE:  Be sure to ask the former students if you can use their papers and projects as examples in other classes.  Delete the student's name from the document before distributing. 

To get you started constructing a rubric, the Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) has prepared Sample Language for Writing a Rubric.

Responding to Writing

Providing effective feedback to students can be tricky, but is a very important process when using writing assignments in your course.  Often, instructors feel like they spend a lot of time grading assignments and providing feedback to students, only to feel as though the students have not utilized the feedback in subsequent writings.  Here are some strategies to provide more effective feedback to your students:

  • Use rubrics to streamline the grading process and provide clear, consistent feedback to each student.
  • Limit feedback to 3-5 comments per page.  The more you write, the less likely students are to read every comment. 
  • Use audio feedback.  Record an audio file of your comments and send the file to each student.  This saves time writing and can be done as you go through each assignment.  For assignments submitted electronically, consider using a screen-capture-with-audio tool, such as Echo360 Personal Capture or Camtasia, to align your audio comments with specific sections of the student's work.
  • Hold feedback conferences to meet with each student or groups of students to discuss their writing.  The discussion allows students to respond to your feedback and ask questions if anything is not clear.

Anonymous grading

Anonymous grading is a technique that helps eliminate grading bias.  Using this method, instructors grade assignments without knowing who made the submission, allowing them to eliminate any bias such as previous performance on assignments, in-class performance, conflict, race, gender, or age from grading.  Letting students know that you are using anonymous grading also enhances your relationship with students, as it reassures students that grading is unbiased.

To use anonymous grading, have students turn in their assignments with their name on a cover sheet and instruct students not to put their name on any subsequent pages.  When grading, turn back the cover sheets and grade all of the assignments before connecting scores with students' names.  Alternatively, each student can use an alternate ID, such as their WSU AccessID, in place of their name on assignments.  Finally, Learning Management Systems (eg. Canvas) have features that allow students to submit their assignments electronically and instructors to grade the assignments without seeing the names of the students who submitted them. 

The OTL can help you get started with anonymous grading through the Wayne State Learning Management System.

Test construction

Test construction is an important part of teaching.  Assessing the learning that took place in the classroom not only allows teachers to evaluate students' understanding of the course content and ability to apply new material, but also to identify any gaps in understanding or potential misunderstanding, and implement small changes to better support the learning of the students in the course.

What should guide the test construction?  Just like with any other form of evaluation, it is important to determine if the evaluation or assessment is aligned with the learning activities and learning outcomes of the course.  A combination of low and high-stakes assessment methods, such as quizzes and mid-term and final exams will result in a thorough assessment of the students' learning.

Questions to consider when constructing a test:

  • Will this test, quiz or exam motivate students to study harder?
  • Will this test evaluate the learning that took place in the course?
  • Will the test measure students' ability to apply the material?
  • Will the test evaluate students' ability to use the material to create new knowledge?
  • Is this test aligned with the learning activities of the course and the desired learning stated in the learning outcomes?
  • Will this test measure a range of learning, allowing all students to demonstrate their learning in the course?

Aligning the cognitive level of tests with that of the learning activities that take place in the course is essential.  Using Bloom's Taxonomy, if the learning activities are geared towards understanding and remembering, then the test should be designed at the same level.  If the learning activities focus on application, then the test should be designed with the emphasis on application.

Using test methods that are in line with the learning outcomes will lead to more significant learning in the course.  Allowing students to see that the assessment is guided by the learning outcomes and learning activities will make learning more intentional and meaningful.  Additionally, clear instructions and consistent language help students understand exactly what is expected from them.

1Stavredes, T. (2011) Effective Online Teaching:  Foundations and Strategies for Student Success.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.