Assessment Terminology

Most instructors and students are familiar with the term “grading.” A more useful term is “assessment,” which is the process of gathering measurable information to meet evaluation needs. The Latin root “assess” means “to judge, to sit beside.” This term thus conveys the idea that assessment involves both judgment by the instructor and collaboration with the student during the evaluation stage.

This chapter presents and discusses two broad categories of assessment. The first is traditional assessment, which often involves the kind of written testing (e.g., multiple choice, matching) and grading that is most familiar to instructors and students. To achieve a passing score on a traditional assessment, the student usually has a set amount of time to recognize or reproduce memorized terms, formulas, or data. There is a single answer that is correct. Consequently, the traditional assessment is more likely to be used to judge, or evaluate, the student’s progress at the rote and understanding levels of learning.


The second category of assessment is authentic assessment. Authentic assessment requires the student to demonstrate not just rote and understanding, but also the application and correlation levels of learning. Authentic assessment generally requires the student to perform real-world tasks, and demonstrate a meaningful application of skills and competencies. In other words, the authentic assessment requires the student to exhibit in-depth knowledge by generating a solution instead of merely choosing a response.

In authentic assessment, there are specific performance criteria, or standards, that students know in advance of the actual assessment. The terms “criteria/criterion” and “standard” are often used interchangeably. They refer to the characteristics that define acceptable performance on a task. Another term used in association with authentic assessment is “rubric.” A rubric is a guide used to score performance assessments in a reliable, fair, and valid manner. It is generally composed of dimensions for judging student performance, a scale for rating performances on each dimension, and standards of excellence for specified performance levels.

Whether traditional or authentic, an assessment can be either formal or informal. Formal assessments usually involve documentation, such as a quiz or written examination. They are used periodically throughout a course, as well as at the end of a course, to measure and document whether or not the course objectives have been met. Informal assessments, which can include verbal critique, generally occur as needed and are not part of the final grade.

Other terms associated with assessment include diagnostic, formative, and summative.

  • Diagnostic assessments are used to assess student knowledge or skills prior to a course of instruction.
  • Formative assessments, which are not graded, are used as a wrap-up of the lesson and to set the stage for the next lesson. This type of assessment, which is limited to what transpired during that lesson, informs and guides the instructor on which areas to reinforce.
  • Summative assessments are used periodically throughout the training to measure how well learning has progressed to that point. For example, a chapter quiz or an end-of-course test can measure the student’s overall mastery of the training. These assessments are an integral part of the lesson, as well as the course of training.

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