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Academic Assessment Resources

Inquire into student learning achievements

Overview of the Assessment Cycle

One assessment tool we really like is the Assessment Cycle: 

infographic of assessment cycle

The Assessment Cycle is iterative and versatile. You can use it to plan out a single assignment, a unit, or an entire course. In the illustration above, the Assessment Cycle is broken into six individual steps. Each step is intended to help you move students forward along the path to meaningful learning.

Step 1: Set Learning Objectives

Following the principles of backwards design, everything starts with learning objectives. The same is true for assessment: you need to determine what you want to assess first and then design assignments, tests, quizzes, activities, etc. that will allow you to see if students are learning and achieving the learning objective. Here are some questions to consider when planning out your student learning objectives:

  • What do you want your students to be able to do as a result of completing your course?

Step 2: List Criteria for Success

Simply put, if students were to achieve success on a given task, what would success look like? Other questions to consider:

  • How will you know if students have met the learning goals?
  • What standards of success will you use?

Step 3: Take Actions

This step is where you outline your course activities. Plan out how you intend to aid students in achieving the learning goals of the course. Questions to consider:

  • What steps will students need to take in order to achieve learning goals successfully?
  • What will you do to help get them there?

Step 4: Gather Evidence

In this step, you outline the information you need to collect and review to see if students are learning. Essentially, this is where you plan out your assignments, quizzes, etc. Questions to consider: 

  • What data or information needs to be gathered to show student learning?
  • How and when will you gather this data?
  • How will the data be documented?

Step 5: Analyze the Evidence

Once the data is gathered, compare it against your criteria for success listed in Step 2  of the Assessment Cycle. Questions to consider: 

  • What can you learn from the data you have gathered?
  • Are your current classroom activities getting students towards the desired learning outcomes?

Step 6: Make Changes

This is the last step in the Assessment Cycle! But remember, it is an iterative cycle so in some ways this step becomes the first step. Having analyzed your data, consider any changes you might need to make as you move forward. Perhaps your learning goals need to change. Perhaps the classroom activities you planned didn't resonate with students. Other questions to consider: 

  • What changes need to happen based on your analysis?
  • What is working well that needs to be nurtured?
  • What isn't working that can be retooled?

And that's the Assessment Cycle. But what happens if you work through assessment and discover that students are not meeting your criteria for success in achieving course learning goals? Don't panic! The beauty of the cycle is that it will help you align all of your course work, assignments, and activities with your learning goals. You should be able to see quickly if students are meeting those goals or not, allowing you to adjust aspects of your course as needed. And remember, assessment is really a means of enhancing your growth as a teacher. We encourage you to try new things! And if they don't work out as expected? You can revise and start over!