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Designing Assessments: Some Considerations

Designing Homework and Assignments: Some Considerations

1. ALIGNMENT: How well does the overall course assessment schedule really assess the student learning outcomes of the course?

2. WEIGHTINGS: How is your assessment schedule weighted? What counts for more % scores? How will you determine a “participation” grade, if appropriate? How have you weighted formative and summative assessments? 

  • Formative assessments are smaller, regular assessment such as low stakes homework assignments that give students feedback on their learning. 
  • Summative assessments are high stakes, final assessments (exams, presentations) that typically draw on knowledge and skills covered during the entire course.

3.  Check for OVERLAP with other courses? eg. Are a number of parallel courses also requiring reflective journals?


  • Validity:  Does this piece of assessment (this exam, project, paper, quiz etc.) actually elicit and assess what it is intended to assess?
  • Reliability (internal & external): Will the items in this quiz or test, elicit consistent responses across different classes and cohorts doing the same quiz or test?  Will similar items in the quiz or test elicit consistent responses?
  • Feasibility:  Consider “time on task” and workload for the student. Instructors: consider the time involved in designing and setting up the assessment, and then the time needed to grade it!  You will need adequate time for giving constructive feedback too.

5. What kind of FEEDBACK will you give students on the assessment, and how will it help improve your students’ learning? ie. numeric or letter grades, longer comments  (How long?).  What approach will give helpful, constructive feedback to each student?


Instructor?    TA?      Other students (= peer assessment)? 
The individual student (= self-assessment)?         An “expert”, or third party? 
How does the instructor oversee and manage grading by others and the reporting of final grades?

7.  What about AUTHENTIC ASSESSSMENT?  What is authentic assessment in your discipline?  Are there particular texts, genres and/or discourse that must be mastered in your discipline and, if so, how will you model, teach and grade those? How “real” can an assessment be? (Is it then an act of research?).  What about longer projects? And publishing student work?

8.  Consider DEPARTMENTAL PRACTICES. You need to know if your department takes a position on norm-referenced, and/or criterion-referenced assessment.

Norm-referenced assessment compares students in terms of certain tested skills or traits. Normative assessment assesses students’ mastery of content and ranks students in a “league table” against each other.  In some universities and university departments instructors are expected to rank students according to “normal distribution” on a J-curve. It is expected that there will be fewer students achieving As and Es at the ends of the J-curve spectrum.

In Criterion-referenced assessment, students’ work is assessed according to predetermined criteria. Task descriptions typically set out the explicit outcomes to be expected of a person, and the instructor grades performance each criterion using a numerical or conceptual scale, eg:

  • Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory
  • Improving/Adequate/Very Good/Excellent (etc.)
  • 0-3;   1-5  (What is the difference between 0 and 1?!)

Grading rubrics are a common practice in criterion-referenced assessment.


From Teaching Idea Packets (TIPs), No. 27. Teaching Innovation and Evaluation Services (TIES), U.C. Berkeley.

Recommended website: http://teaching.berkeley.edu/compendium/sectionlists/sect21.html

This site includes suggestions and tips such as the following:

  1. Give a brief early assignment that allows your students to build on knowledge and skills acquired in previous courses.
  2. Give your students at least one assignment which consists of several options.
  3. Create opportunities for role-playing.
  4. Assign provocative or controversial topics for papers.
  5. Use a structured process to help your students choose topics and groups.
  6. Set up student panels.
  7. Ask students to analyze an essay or journal article and to write a critique of it.

For more on assessment:

The Virtual Companion

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