July 1, 2016

More Is More: Multiple Measures for Better Assessment

This content was previously published by Campus Labs, now part of Anthology. Product and/or solution names may have changed.

What if in order to receive your driver’s license, all you needed to do was pass a written test? The road would be a very dangerous place. Personally, I feel much better knowing that the driver in the next lane went through multiple measures (a written test, driver education course, required minimum hours of driving experience, and final road test) to assess driving skills before receiving a permanent driver’s license. This is also the case in higher education. One assessment generates evidence, which in turn can be used to make decisions about student learning and development, as well as improve program quality and effectiveness. However, the use of multiple measures encourages more comprehensive and accurate assessment. This benefits not only the students who are learning but also the instructors who are doing the teaching.

Let’s examine three scenarios in which multiple measures can enhance teaching and learning.

Scenario I: Multiple measures

Imagine an English 101 class for non-literature majors. Your students are to compose a short essay about the concept of symbolism. You have allowed them time to work on this assignment in class and collaborate with their peers. In the end, each group will submit one essay.

Now suppose the essay is the first time a student’s understanding of symbolism is assessed during your course. Moreover, the work reflects a collaboration with peers. How will you know for sure that each individual student has a solid grasp of symbolism? While an essay is a valid measure of your students’ knowledge, multiple and varied assignments would provide a more accurate picture of learning. As you progress through the semester, you might include multiple-choice questions on a quiz, require creation of a visual to represent an example of symbolism, and on a final project, ask students to reflect on a piece of literature.

Through formative assessment, your students are given multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning of symbolism. In addition, these multiple measures give you, the instructor, the opportunity to adjust teaching activities based on results before students are assessed on the final summative project. In the end, the assessment process is fair to your students and also more informative. Rather than being evaluated by a single measure, each student benefits from low and high-stakes opportunities to show progress.

Scenario II: Iterative measures

As a professor for your university’s literacy education program, you ask your teacher candidates to design a lesson plan for sixth graders. This is their first teaching methods course, and outside of preparing a few questions for a storybook lesson in a previous education course, they have no experience designing lesson plans.

In this scenario, a variety of measures can produce evidence of learning development. Consider how using multiple drafts accompanied by a final submission would be a better approach in order to more accurately demonstrate learned knowledge. Similar to Scenario I, here the same lesson plan is assessed at various intervals during the semester and done so using a rubric, allowing both you and your students to track learning. Through these formative assessment drafts, students learn from their mistakes, improve from one draft to the next, and demonstrate the degree of their acquired knowledge in the final lesson plan.

Scenario III: Multiple assessors

Applications are in, and it’s time to select who will be next year’s Resident Assistants (RA). Each applicant was required to provide demographic information and meet a set of criteria (e.g., at least a sophomore by the next academic year, full-time student status, etc.). Applicants were then asked to respond to two questions: (1) What attributes do you bring to the Resident Assistant position? (2) Can you describe an experience you’ve had involving conflict resolution?

I’m sure you can’t wait to get started and review the applicants, but should you be taking on this job by yourself? To improve the selection process, consider assembling a RA application committee. Sure, you or your assistant can comb through the applications to separate those who meet the required qualifications and those who do not. But when it comes time to review the two open-ended questions, it’s better to assign this as a committee task. Each committee member reads through the responses and rates the students using a pre-designed and agreed-upon rubric. In addition to shared labor, multiple assessors can provide multiple perspectives and a fairer evaluation for the student. Think of it as a system of checks and balances to ensure an open review process.

These three scenarios showcase how multiple measures can more accurately gauge student learning. And while assessment is informative, results ultimately need to be translated to an evaluation framework – grades. How does this play into our multiple measures paradigm? In Scenario I, multiple measures (a short essay, quiz, visual, and final project) allow you to better understand a student’s level of progress for each assessed attribute at different times during the semester. This also produces anecdotal evidence to be shared with instructors of courses being offered in the next phase of the program. As the instructor in Scenario II, you actually have several opportunities to see teacher candidates demonstrate their expanding lesson planning skillset. And as your students learn from their mistakes and apply these changes, the final lesson plan provides a summative view of their learning and development. In our last scenario, consider two options when utilizing multiple assessors. Once all committee members have assessed an applicant, use the sum of all results or average the scores from all assessors in order to obtain an overall score.

At Campus Labs, we partner with institutions to develop solutions for better assessment. With our comprehensive assessment toolset, faculty can use the rubrics feature to easily create and share multiple measures for evaluating students. And thanks to new enhancements to our platform, it’s possible to collect multiple measures on a rubric-based assessment or assignment for each student. In fact, all three of the scenarios highlighted here are possible with Campus Labs.

In summary, comprehensive assessment doesn’t have to be hard. First examine how you currently assess students. Are you using multiple measures, or do students have one shot to show you what they’ve learned? If you don’t use multiple measures, how might you alter your course and its assessments to allow for a better, more holistic view of student learning on any given attribute? You’ll end your course with a more complete understanding of student learning–and that’s powerful and actionable data.

Topics: Assessment

Jill Whalen