Most professors assess at the start of a term, the middle point and at the very end. But professors and students alike can benefit from more frequent evaluations.
When there are only three assessments per term, they are all usually high stakes, each making up a hefty portion of a student’s grade. This can therefore increase pressure for students to perform, especially if they receive a low grade earlier in the semester. Three assessments offer little opportunity for growth and reflection.
Here, we asked professors to share their thoughts on the benefits of regularly assessing their students.
This is the first part of a three-part series on formative assessment. Parts two and three are here:
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More evaluations mean more opportunities for growth
The main reason you should assess your students more regularly is to provide them with more opportunities to reach out for help. This way, you can find out sooner which students are struggling with the material—instead of right before the midterm or final exam.
Jessica Wooten, Associate Professor of Biology at Piedmont College, has already made great strides in improving learning outcomes for her biology students this way. “If I see that there is a particular topic that a significant portion of the students missed, I will go over the topic again in lecture, have students complete some active learning activities and hold a Q&A session where students can ask additional questions,” she says. Professor Wooten’s strategic use of lesson recaps in the lecture hall enhance learning opportunities for her students and gives students a chance to become familiar with material that may have been fuzzy.
Research also shows the value of frequent testing. King’s College professors Paul Black and Dylan William write in the education journal The Phi Delta Kappan that frequent short tests as opposed to infrequent long tests—which are expectedly used in most classes today—provide better learning opportunities for students.1 More assessments mean more opportunities for feedback. Professors can ask students for their feedback on what type of assessment works for them while students receive regular feedback from their teachers on areas that they’re excelling in or need improvement on. Black and William argue that frequent feedback leads to improved learning as it provides students with guidance on their strengths and weaknesses.
How to increase engaging assessments
David Yearwood, a professor in the Department of Technology at the University of North Dakota, has come up with engaging ways to test his students’ knowledge one week prior to his course’s final exam. Yearwood wasn’t keen on having his students memorize a ton of material ahead of a summative task and so he introduced a problem solving method to let students learn from one another. Yearwood pairs students up and encourages them to work together to solve problems and present their findings to the class on the last day. This group exercise is part of the final assessment and students can earn extra credit for correctly answering any questions that their classmates may have. “Students are relieved to work with a classmate. The comment I get most often is, ‘That was weird—I was learning as I was being tested,’” Yearwood says.
In this case, there’s a positive correlation between assessments and student learning. Frequent assessments allow students to realize what they do and don’t understand. The sooner you offer assessments in your course, the more time students will have to correct their understanding of the material before a high-stakes assessment. Here, frequent assessments not only provide more learning opportunities but also lead to a boost in grades.
How Top Hat can help
Top Hat allows you to administer assessments, quizzes and exams all in one spot. Track your students’ progress through a revamped gradebook that also indicates questions that your students struggled with. Top Hat’s weekly course report email also gives you insights into which questions students most struggled with, enabling you to review and reteach these concepts, and/or easily reach out to those who might need help. Read more about how Top Hat can help you test your students with interactive and engaging digital assessments.