Spring 1999
Vol 7 Issue 2


Why Assessment?

Student Academic Achievement Plan (SAAP)

The Forum

The Labyrinth


Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction

Assidere: Sharing Information on Assessment

Alice asked, " Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here"?

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cheshire Cat.

Louis Carroll
Alice in Wonderland

Why Assessment?
Maria Harper-Marnick, MCLI

The teaching and learning process has been described by the American Council on Education (ACE) as a "panoply of interactions between students and teachers, and among students, that cause students to master subject matter, to hone their critical thinking, to develop personally and intellectually." This process encompasses "inquiry, pedagogy, educational theory, learning styles and preferences, as well as personal growth and development." To this insightful definition of teaching and learning, we should add another element: a feedback loop.

Learning is not complete until students receive feedback on their progress as learners. Teaching is not complete until educators receive feedback on their effectiveness as facilitators of learning. Imagine yourself as a student in a cooking class. You are asked to create a cake by following a step-by-step recipe. You are also told that there will be no time to actually see the final product--the experience of working with your peers and learning to follow directions is your reward. Would you be satisfied? Probably not. If you are like most people, you would appreciate the experience, but you would also want to smell the cake as it bakes; see what it looks like; and most of all, taste it. You would want to make a connection between the process you followed and the end result. As the American philosopher John Dewey said, "You do not learn simply from experience; you learn from processing the experience."

Some people would say that the practice of measuring students' knowledge or abilities as a result of learning experiences is not new. I agree. The notion that "testing follows teaching" is usually taken for granted. Throughout the years, many teachers have relied on testing as a way of collecting data on each individual for purposes of advancement. In fact, very few educators would argue the importance of helping students determine whether or not they have acquired new knowledge or have enhanced existing abilities.

What has changed, though, are our assumptions about assessment. It is no longer just about testing, grading, and reporting. It is not about putting "teaching" in hiatus to evaluate students. Assessment is the systematic, on-going, iterative process of monitoring learning in order to determine what we are doing well and what we must improve. Assessment can't be treated as a separate component of the teaching and learning cycle. Deciding what to teach and what to assess are not two separate issues. They are both part of the same goal: facilitating students' on-going learning.

It is unfortunate that assessment became analogous to judgment and, in the mind of many students, criticism and punishment. The term assessment comes from the Latin assidere, which means "to sit by." It implies the process by which people get together to evaluate the educational experience and the ways to make it more meaningful. Well-designed assessment can make a difference in the way we do things because knowing how well we are doing contributes to further improvement. "Learning increases, even in its serendipitous aspects, when learners have a sense of what they are setting out to learn, a statement of explicit standards they must meet and a way of seeing what they have learned" (Loacker, Cromwell, and O'Brien,1986).

Can we describe the ideal assessment? No. Assessment can de done in a variety of ways, for many purposes, and for different populations. It can occur at the classroom level, the program level, or the college level. It can take the form of a multiple-choice test or a portfolio. What we can say, though, is that there are good and inappropriate practices, and that assessment can, and should, be designed to gather the data that would be most meaningful to the student, faculty, department, or institution. For some that means helping students identify their strong and weak points in order to enhance their educational development; for others, it means evaluating program effectiveness to demonstrate accountability to the community at large.

The dialogue on what to assess, why, and how is far from over. Many questions remain and a great deal of work needs to be done in our endeavors to use the results of assessment for impacting the way we conduct our business: promoting learning.

One of our priorities at the MCLI is to provide leadership and expertise to the Maricopa communities as they strive to enhance learning through assessment and evaluation. We offer consultation to faculty and administrators, and we make available in-house and on-line resources. In that spirit, we initiate this new feature of our publication, Assidere. Sharing Information on Assessment. We hope this medium will serve as a professional forum for the exchange of ideas and the analysis of issues related to the multiple facets of assessment. We also intend to showcase successful practices in the implementation of assessment plans by our colleges.

This first issue of Assidere. Sharing Information on Assessment includes the Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning developed by the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE). This displays thoughts about the relation of assessment to cultural diversity. Our first showcase of good practice is EMCC's Student Academic Achievement Plan (SAAP).

Assessment And Diversity

Assessment should be effective and fair for all. Models of assessment plans cannot be generalized to each and every student population, especially in the community college setting where today's student body is more diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, and cultural and linguistic background.

Educators should care, not only about how our diverse student population and pluralistic society are reflected on the disciplines we teach and how we teach them, but also on assessment. Quality teaching benefits all students, not just minorities. Quality assessment works the same way. Well-designed assessment tools and processes determine achievement of specified learning outcomes, regardless of the student's ethnicity, cultural background, and learning style.

The diverse characteristics of our students, however, should not be ignored when designing assessment processes and selecting assessment tools. These tools should be free of stereotypes, allow for outcomes in a variety of modes, and solicit varied and creative student performances.

The greater number and richer opportunities we give our students to demonstrate academic achievement, the more effective we will be as a learning institution. Let's not forget the goals of assessment are not to punish but to promote student cognitive and personal development, to strengthen institutional programs, and to contribute to the institutional mission's success.

Principles Of Good Practice For Assessing Student Learning

The following guidelines were developed by a group of assessment practitioners under the auspices of the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) Assessment Forum:

  1. The assessment of student learning begins with educational values.

  2. Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and performance over time.

  3. Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.

  4. Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.

  5. Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic.

  6. Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.

  7. Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.

  8. Assessment most likely leads to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.

  9. Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public.


Green, M. F. (Ed.). Minorities on Campus. A Handbook for Enhancing Diversity. Washington, D.C. American Council on Education, 1989.

Loacker, G., Cromwell, L., & O’Brien, K. "Assessment in Higher Education: To Serve the Learner." In C. Adelman (Ed.), Assessment in Higher Education (pp.47-62). Washington, D.C: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, 1986.

Astin, A. W., Banta, T. W., Cross, K. P., El-Khawas, E., Ewell, P. T., Hutchings, P., Marchese, T. J., McClenney, K. M., Mentkowski, M., Miller, M. A., Moran, E. T., & Wright, B. D. Assessment Principles of Good Practice [Brochure]. Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), 1992. http://www.aahe.org/assessment/principl.htm