Testing for Evidence of Learning

What do you want your students to learn?

In this section, the term assessment will refer to any exam or assignment that will provide you with evidence of student learning. There are a four learning targets that you may wish to utilize in your assessments. Learning target are categories that house specific learning goals.

Knowledge Targets: tests factual or procedural knowledge
Reasoning Targets: solve problems, form judgments, draw conclusions. Targets thought processes students need to do well.
Skill Targets: the ability to complete a process or demonstrate something.
Product Targets: students are tested on the capacity to produce or create something.

Example: You may wish students to know the atomic weight of certain elements. Students will be able to pick the correct atomic weight from a number of choices, or they may have to provide an alpha-numerical response. In each case, they are both knowledge targets because they are asking students to identify something.

Write out specific outcomes for your assessment.

Think about what evidence you want from your students proving that they have learned the material, processes, or understandings that are pertinent to the topic(s) you are covering. Your outcomes should be phrased in such a manner that it is clear to students what you are asking for.

Good Example: Students will be able to diagram and explain the cellular division process in cancer cells.

The words used here are actionable and not vague. Students will know that part of their learning responsibility is to draw and label a diagram and be able to explain their work in a written manner. The outcome is also measurable as you can clearly determine criteria for them to demonstrate this via an exam question or an assignment.

Bad Example: Students will gain appreciation for Canadian Literature.

Although you may want students to gain an appreciation of Canadian Literature, how will they be able to produce evidence of their appreciation? How will you grade that evidence?

When determining your outcomes, be sure only to focus on measurable results. As well only focus on outcomes that you taught for within your course. Asking students to understand how a combustion engine works, when you have only covered the workings of an electric engine would create an unfair assessment for your students, and more than likely the evidence they provide you will be incomplete.

Starting points for creating measurable outcomes.

Look at your course syllabus. What is it that you told students they will know or do by the time the course is over? These are big overarching themes or ideas. These grand ideas can house multiple outcomes and can be broken down into these smaller more specific outcomes. Be sure to use verbs and be sure to keep it measurable.

If you have no outcomes to pull from, think about what you covered in class during the assessment period. What is it about that content that you want students to be able to know, reason through, or understand? When compiling outcomes be sure to word your outcomes in a sentence or phrase that uses specific verbs.

Determining what type of evidence your outcome will yeild.

Now that you have your measurable outcomes listed, it is time to categorize these items into the specific learning target categories. See the examples below. They will provide you with an idea of how to categorize your outcomes.

Outcome 1: Students will be able to identify the major themes in the literary works covered in this section.
Learning Target: Knowledge.
Why? Because the verb used is identify. You are not asking the students to be able to comprehend or compare and contrast the themes, but simply be able to identify them, or recognize that they occur within a literary work.

Outcome 2: Students will be able to solve quadratic equations.
Learning Target: Reasoning
Why? Students need to solve the problem and work through a process that requires them to use knowledge, process, and understanding.

Outcome 3: Students will be able to produce crystals in a lab.
Learning Target: Skill and Product
Why? This is a Skill category because students will have to follow a process, but it also falls into the Product category because students are asked to produce something in the end.

You should now have a list of outcomes identified as measuring specific learning targets. There are no concrete answers as to how many learning outcomes you should create for each learning target. And there is also no standard answer as to how many questions or assignments on a specific learning outcome will provide reasonable evidence of learning. However, having an assessment that is all knowledge targets may not engage the student's critical thinking skills. The goal in identifying the different learning targets is simply to make sure that you can create a fair and balanced exam.

A good rule to follow when determining how much evidence you require to a certain outcome is to look at the structure of the activities in your course. If 5% of the of the course content and understanding is focused on outcome A, your assessments towards outcome A should not exceed 5% of your exams and assignments.

How are the students going to demonstrate they know what you want them to know?

Now that you have determined what the learning outcome is, you need to find a way for them to demonstrate what they know in regards to that outcome. There are four ways to look for evidence of learning. These four assessment methods will help you construct your assessment. You may want multiple assessment methods involved in your assessment. This is particularly true for exams.

Selected response: This assessment method relies on students choosing the best answer from a list of answers. Question types may include, multiple choice, multiple response, matching, and true and false question types. They are quite appropriate for assessing knowledge and reasoning learning targets.

Written response: This assessment method can be graded in a couple of ways. First you can assess for specific pieces of information. This would be a simple fill in the blank type of question. Numerical response is another example. The other type of response is an extended response and requires the students to provide evidence of learning in a written form that covers multiple sentences or paragraphs. Extended response questions should use rubrics that score according to the quality of the response.

Performance Assessment: Students will demonstrate, or create something. This can be real-time performances or the creation of artifacts.

Personal communication: This type of assessment method requires you to gather information from students personal communication such as journals, blogs, and other reflective activities. This assessment method should be marked similar to an extended response; requiring a well thought out rubric or marking guide.

Below is a matrix that can help you determine what assessment type is best to use for the learning targets you have determined.

Figure 1: Assessment Method and Learning Target Matrix

  Selected Response Written Response Performance Assessment Personal
Knowledge Good Strong Partial Strong
Reasoning Good Strong Partial Strong
Skills Partial Poor Strong Partial
Product Poor Poor Strong Poor

Figure 1: adapted from Classroom Assessment for Student Learning by Chappuis, Chappuis, Stiggins and Arter Pearson Education Inc. 2012, 2007.

Determine how much evidence you require for each outcome.
How much about each topic or concept do students need to know?

Blueprints or assessment plans are an excellent way to help you organize your outcomes, learning targets, assessment methods, and even how much evidence you're require for each learning outcome. Below is an example of a blueprint that you can adapt for your own assessments.

Outcome Learning Target Category Assessment Method Importance (%)
Students will be able to define various grammatical terms. Knowledge Selected Response 5
Students will be able to compare and contrast the themes of love and hate evident in the literary works covered. Reasoning Written Response 20
Students will be able to identify and comprehend which grammatical theory is being applied to selected excerpts from works studied. Knowledge, Reasoning Selected Response 35
Students will be able to demonstrate the use of hyperbole via a recited poem. Performance Written Response 15
Students will be able identify and synthesize at least 2 works from Shakespeares sonnets. Knowledge, Reasoning Written Response 30

Now that you have identified your student outcomes what the outcomes target, what assessment methods to use and the importance of these outcomes, you can move on to creating specific questions for your assessment.