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What goes into developing a quality assessment? How do you know that the assessment tool you’re using is going to give you the information you need in practical terms that you’ll be able to communicate to students, colleagues and others?

There are five keys that are critical to developing quality assessments:

  1. Understanding the purpose of the assessment
  2. Clearly articulating the learning targets (that can be communicated to students in terms they understand)
  3. Surfacing practical information that can be shared with students, parents and others
  4. Choosing an appropriate method of assessment
  5. Selecting the right sample size, items, tasks and scoring that reinforces quality

Sacrificing any of the five keys above can have consequences. You may end up with information that is lacking in accuracy, or worse yet, make bad decisions that can negatively impact learning. Let’s look at each of the five keys to quality assessment design more closely.

1. Understanding the purpose of the assessment

What information do you need? Are you trying to support a student’s learning or certify it? Determining the purpose of the assessment matches the information needs you have is the first key to ensuring quality assessment practice. There are many types of assessments available that can be used to answer questions about student learning, so being clear about your information needs will make sure you make an informed choice.

2. Clearly articulating the learning targets

What learning are you expecting the students to demonstrate? Do the students know what learning they are being held accountable for on the assessment? Getting students involved in the assessment process begins by helping them understand the learning targets that are covered in terms that they can understand. Administering assessments without any context can create pressure for students and can negatively impact their image of themselves. It’s important to remember that students are key decisions makers in their learning. Creating an environment that respects them as such will support their continued investment in themselves.

3. Surfacing practical information

The information an assessment provides needs to be practical and easily communicated with students, parents and other educators. Quality assessment design should produce usable information that is linked to the learning targets it is meant to evaluate. Whether in the form of a score, a grade, detailed reports or simply raw data, the information provided must be simple to interpret and readily actionable.

4. Choosing an appropriate method of assessment

In order for a quality assessment to provide the right types of information, you need to also choose a suitable method for gathering the evidence of learning, such as multiple choice questions or a written response. Each method has its advantages, depending upon the type of information you want to know about the student. Are you looking for evidence of factual knowledge or problem solving ability? Choose the method that best matches your intended learning targets.

5. Choosing the right sample size, items, tasks and scoring that reinforces quality

The last factor of quality encompasses the a few major elements of assessment design. First, it is important for the sample size of the assessment is adequate enough to produce evidence of learning or mastery of the intended learning targets. This makes good sense, as you would likely find a short quiz a poor cumulative measure of a student’s learning in mathematics for the entire year. Second, the questions, test items, tasks and scoring method should be valid, reliable, fair and free of bias. These characteristics of quality ensure that the resulting information from an assessment does not skew one way or another.

Download our guide to the Characteristics of Quality Assessments for handy reference.