Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education

Section 1

Section 2
Background and Rationale for Assessment

Section 3
Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Section 4
 Assessment Tools and Data
 Quality Data
 Defining Terms
Assessment Tools
Grades & Assessment
Primary Trait Analysis
Selecting the Tools
Creating a Tool
Your SLOs

Section 5
Course Assessment

Section 6
Program Assessment


Section 7
Closing the Loop

Section 8
Implementing Assessment Training on Campus


Section 9
References & Resources



Using Materials from this Website


Grading and Assessment

But how does assessment fit with GRADING? 

Paul Dressel (1976) has defined a grade as "an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgment by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite material.” Miller, Imrie, & Cox 1998, p. 24 

“An interesting aspect of the GPA is that it tells us very little about what a student knows or what that student’s competencies or talents really are. The GPA is thus primarily a relativistic or normative measure. That is, the primary information contained in a course grade pertains to the student’s performance in relation to other students.” Astin, 1993, p. 11

Walvoord and Anderson (1998) in their book Effective Grading suggest that grading, when based upon explicit criteria, can become a structural framework for course embedded assessment. This creates a criterion-referenced and valid means of assessing student learning that occurs in the process of teaching, rather than as an additional task layered upon daily course activities.

Effective Grading Ideas

Make the course assignment-centered.  Do not ask, "What should I cover in this course?" but "What should my students be able to do?” 

bullet Rethink the use of in-class time. (What wastes your time or the students’ time? Assess the competency of your students at the beginning; some may be lacking in pre-requisite skills)
bullet Give students explicit directions for each assignment. (This saves you time grading and allows students to create a better product.)
bullet Determine assessable criteria, use grading scales, checklists, or rubrics that are assignment-specific.  Construct a Primary Trait Analysis (PTA) scale referencing highly explicit criteria and develop rubrics based upon the PTA.
bullet Make grading time-efficient. (Grade things to a certain point in the paper; if the same mistakes are occurring repetitively, draw a line and indicate this is a systemic recurring problem and that you have stopped making specific comments. Use a checklist for simple content or components of assignments, but provide detailed feedback for formative development.)
bullet Use authentic types of assignments.
bullet Employ multiple types of assessments.
bullet Address a variety of learning styles.

In the process of rethinking assignments to make them valid and reliable assessments, faculty grading becomes more efficient and effective, and student performance improves due to the explicit expectations that faculty have articulated. The next sections discuss assignments and exams based upon standards and criteria using primary trait analysis.

Proceed to Primary Trait Analysis

Resources and Links

Why Aren't Course Grades Enough?
CSU System

What is the difference between assessing a program and assessing a student?
NC State University

Primary Trait Analysis: Grades vs. Assessment
Eder (SIUE)

Walvoord and Anderson, 1998

Teaching to the test
Carnegie Foundation

Grade Inflation
Carnegie Foundation

Integrating Testing with Teaching.

The Case for Authenitic Testing. Wiggins, 1990


Janet Fulks
Assessing Student Learning in Community Colleges (2004), Bakersfield College