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Aligning Assessment to Learning Outcomes

Why Do I Need to Build Alignment between Assessment and Learning Outcomes?

Understanding Purpose

To students, assessment is the main component of a course because it sends a message about what is important and where their time should be focused. Clearly defining your assessment and its relationship to your student learning outcomes is therefore very helpful in ensuring students understand not just how the assessment fits into their learning but how all the practices and content you engage with assists them in achieving success in the course.

Building clear alignment between your outcomes, assessment, and practice (as well as clearly communicating this alignment to students) can build mutual clarity on the learning journey and lessen students’ anxiety and questions. The role of assessment is to measure student attainment of the necessary skills and learning, so being able to demonstrate this connection in class and through the syllabus is very helpful in situating why you have made the assessment choices you have.

Understanding Student Learning Progression

Building alignment between assessment and learning outcomes also allows you to develop and communicate the pathway for students’ learning progression. It enables you to explain what knowledge and skills were expected on entry to the course and the knowledge and skills that will be developed throughout the course. As students move through a program, the sophistication and difficulty of the assessment choices you make should be increased as you deepen your expectation of student learning and engagement with the material.

Beginning your outcome planning at the program level when considering assessment is helpful in making this progression clearer and more seamless as students progress through the program. Courses do not exist in isolation and considering your course’s outcomes and assessment from a programmatic perspective is very beneficial in ensuring that students progress appropriately through the program and achieve the skills and knowledge that are necessary in the appropriate sequence.

Being Able to Validate Attainment

Building alignment between assessment and outcomes is driven by strategically connecting the two components of course design and allows you to communicate and validate your assessment and its role in student learning attainment. Having this clarity of what you are trying to achieve with your students, and connecting this clearly with your mechanisms for measurement through assessment, allows you to be definitive in what constitutes attainment and how it is displayed and measured through assessment. Having this clarity allows you to be able to communicate this to your students and demonstrate to them what level of performance or knowledge acquisition is essential to be successful in the course and program.

Building Effective Assessment of Learning Processes

Lessons, course activities, assessment, and instruction should be planned in a way that allows students to successfully complete assessments and to make connections, gather, organize, interact with, and practice learning outcomes. In your course development process, take each of your assessments one at a time and consider the content knowledge as well as the skill development that each would require for successful completion.

For example, if you want students to analyze a case study, you will need to prepare them to successfully complete this assessment. Here’s what your aligned instructional strategies and content may look like:

Learning Outcome: Analyze organizational decision making.

Assessment: Case Study Analysis.

Instructional Strategies:

  • Methodologies: Provide instruction and model how to:
    • Do a case study analysis including identifying main issues/key points.
    • Create case notes.
    • Apply principles/theories/models.
    • Develop solutions and provide support for them.
  • Activities:
    • Watch YouTube videos of real-life cases with directive questions.
    • Practice identifying main issues or key points in a case study through self-assessments such as m/c quizzes with instant feedback.
    • Practice creating case notes with activities such as checklists, instructor reveals to check their work against, and small formative assignments.
    • Practice with applying principles, theories or models through activities that have practice application with feedback.
    • Practice with critical thinking, supporting statements, and problem solving through discussion board activities.
  • Content and materials:
    • Reading support resources.
    • Textbook reading on principles, theories or models.
    • Videos of real-life cases.
    • Case studies from Library.
    • Template for case analysis format.
    • Exemplar of an excellent case analysis.
    • Writing support resource.
    • Grading rubric.

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How Do I Build Alignment between Assessment and Learning Outcomes?

Considering Stage of Learning

As has been suggested earlier, the first thing that needs to be considered is where students are in their learning stage in the program and the context of the course.

  • Where are your students in their program?
  • What learning needs to take place in order for them to move on in the program?
  • What assessment is relevant to measure this learning?

This will enable you to start with a sense of where you can work in relation to your outcomes and the aligned assessment you choose.

Outline Your Goals

What are the goals that you have for your students and their learning? As when considering developing outcomes, this is your starting place. How do students need to progress in this course to meet course level skill and knowledge acquisition and continue on in the program?

Determine How Attainment can be Demonstrated

Once you have determined how students need to develop, you can begin considering what they need to do to demonstrate this development, which is where we should consider our assessment tools. What do students need to do to show me that they have achieved this outcome? When you are considering this, you should consider it from both formative and summative perspectives. What does attainment of the overall course outcomes look like and how can you develop meaningful formative assessment moments for students to understand their progression?

Define What Performance Looks Like

The next step is to consider what the necessary performance looks like and how to observe and measure it. This is where assessment choice becomes clearer, and you will begin having a sense of the nature of the assessment tools that fit with your outcomes and students’ learning progression. At this stage, you could look at performance through different lenses. What would it look like to exceed expectations? Meet expectations? Or not meet expectations? Defining each of these is helpful to build clarity for your students.

The Role of Rubrics

Building rubrics that clearly show what attainment looks like and can be used to grade assignments are useful tools for building clarity and allowing students to measure their own progress. Making these available for students while they are engaging with assessment is important in offering this clarity and allowing students the ability to consider measurement when performing the assessment.

Scaffolding Assessments for Depth

To assist with student development through formative feedback, consider scaffolding a large piece of assessment across the course. In breaking a large piece of assessment down into a number of deliverables across the term, students build towards a final project with a clear learning pathway. Scaffolded assessment allows multiple points of connection for students to receive and reflect on feedback throughout their progression and learning in the course as they develop and refine the larger project. Scaffolded assessments have the added benefit of developing students’ time management skills and promote academic integrity through refining and developing a multi-stage project.

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