Aligning Assessments to the Objectives

It is important that the assessments you create are aligned with the course objectives. If your assessments are not aligned to your objectives and instructional strategies it can actually undermine both student motivation and learning. For instance, if students spend a great deal of time learning and developing analytical skills and then are only given multiple choice tests, that only test memorization, they could easily become frustrated. Carefully written objectives that identify not only what is to be learned, but to the degree it should be learned, will lead to the development of assessments that truly are aligned to overall goals of the course and will provide evidence that the objectives are being met.

It is important to remember that assessments are not just quizzes and tests. Assessments are our way to validate that students are truly learning something. One way to go beyond weekly quizzes is through the use of Authentic Assessments.

Authentic Assessments are an alternative to traditional “pen and paper” tests in that they are designed to assess student performance in a real-world application. Instead of measuring what students remember we measure how they apply what they have learned.

Grant Wiggins, an expert on authentic assessment, offers a comparison between authentic assessments and traditional standardized testing methods in his article “The Case for Authentic Assessment”:

*Authentic assessments require students to be effective performers with acquired knowledge. Traditional tests tend to reveal only whether the student can recognize, recall or "plug in" what was learned out of context. This may be as problematic as inferring driving or teaching ability from written tests alone. (Note, therefore, that the debate is not "either-or": there may well be virtue in an array of local and state assessment instruments as befits the purpose of the measurement.)

* Authentic assessments present the student with the full array of tasks that mirror the priorities and challenges found in the best instructional activities: conducting research; writing, revising and discussing papers; providing an engaging oral analysis of a recent political event; collaborating with others on a debate, etc. Conventional tests are usually limited to paper-and-pencil, one- answer questions.

* Authentic assessments attend to whether the student can craft polished, thorough and justifiable answers, performances or products. Conventional tests typically only ask the student to select or write correct responses--irrespective of reasons. (There is rarely an adequate opportunity to plan, revise and substantiate responses on typical tests, even when there are open-ended questions). As a result,

* Authentic assessment achieves validity and reliability by emphasizing and standardizing the appropriate criteria for scoring such (varied) products; traditional testing standardizes objective "items" and, hence, the (one) right answer for each.

* "Test validity" should depend in part upon whether the test simulates real-world "tests" of ability. Validity on most multiple-choice tests is determined merely by matching items to the curriculum content (or through sophisticated correlations with other test results).

* Authentic tasks involve "ill-structured" challenges and roles that help students rehearse for the complex ambiguities of the "game" of adult and professional life. Traditional tests are more like drills, assessing static and too-often arbitrarily discrete or simplistic elements of those activities.

You can read his article in its entirety at the Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation web site