The American Association for Higher Education ( has developed Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning1.   They are a good place to begin to explore assessment strategies:

The assessment of student learning begins with educational values.

  • Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.
  • Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.
  • Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.
  • Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic.
  • Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.
  • Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.
  • Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.
  • Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public.

Assessment looks at how students can achieve valued educational improvement.  This means we need to understand what we are looking to accomplish in the classroom, how this ties to student progress and how effectively students were able to learn.  It is important to remember that learning is a complex process.  It is developed over time.   Students may first learn the knowledge or skills, but over time realize how learning affects them outside the classroom.  This reinforces the notion that assessment needs to be continuous and needs to be varied.  Linking assessment to students ‘continuous improvement’ means the quiz, test, and exam regiment of past years must be transformed into a more diverse, multidimensional assessment.  This does not mean throwing out quizzes, tests, and exams.  Rather, we need to supplement these forms of assessment with instruments better suited to student development.  This means tracking student progress throughout their stay in our classroom. It means linking a series of activities over a period.  It means evaluating student progress toward an outcome at frequent intervals throughout the year.

Assessment – A Little Bit of Theory

In objectives-based education, it is necessary to assess student ability to meet the required objectives.  These measurements are made to the Enabling Objectives or Demonstrations.  Demonstrations make it easier to understand the underlying processes of learning within the overall outcome for that unit, module, or lesson.  Assessing the demonstrations allows the instructor to follow a logical staged measurement regime that should be in lock-step with student progress toward an outcome. If a student shows that they have learned the necessary skills to complete the demonstrations, then it is an illustration that they have met the requirements of the overall objective.  It must be kept in mind that even though students successfully ‘complete’ an outcome they will continue to develop deeper understanding of the inherent values of the outcome as they move on to others.  Each outcome builds toward the overall learning for that student.

Assessment needs to take into consideration the level of expertise required within that demonstration.  If, for example, the demonstration requires students to ‘name the provinces of Canada’ (knowledge-level) the assessment need only be a written test asking them to list the provinces.  If, on the other hand, the demonstration requires students to ‘develop and describe a plan for a personal or professional portfolio’ (synthesis-level), the assessment would ask students to develop a plan from a number of sources of information.  These levels of expertise have been described by Bloom.  The following table shows Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives for Knowledge-Based Goals  2.

Level of Expertise Description of Level
1. Knowledge Recall, or recognition of terms, ideas, procedure, theories, etc.
2. Comprehension Translate, interpret, extrapolate, but not see full implications or transfer to other situations, closer to literal translation.
3. Application Apply abstractions, general principles, or methods to specific concrete situations.
4. Analysis Separation of a complex idea into its constituent parts and an understanding of organization and relationship between the parts. Includes realizing the distinction between hypothesis and fact as well as between relevant and extraneous variables.
5. Synthesis Creative, mental construction of ideas and concepts from multiple sources to form complex ideas into a new, integrated, and meaningful pattern subject to given constraints.
6. Evaluation To make a judgment of ideas or methods using external evidence or self-selected criteria substantiated by observations or informed rationalizations.

Bloom also described levels for Skills-Based Goals and Affective-based Goals

Level of Expertise Description of Level (Skills-Based)
Perception Uses sensory cues to guide actions
Set Demonstrates a readiness to take action to perform the task or objective
Guided Response Knows steps required to complete the task or objective
Mechanism Performs task or objective in a somewhat confident, proficient, and habitual manner
Complex Overt Response Performs task or objective in a confident, proficient, and habitual manner
Adaptation Performs task or objective as above, but can also modify actions to account for new or problematic situations
Organization Creates new tasks or objectives incorporating learned ones


Level of Expertise Description of Level (Affective)
Receiving Demonstrates a willingness to participate in the activity
Responding Shows interest in the objects, phenomena, or activity by seeking it out or pursuing it for pleasure
Valuing Internalizes an appreciation for (values) the objectives, phenomena, or activity
Organization Begins to compare different values, and resolves conflicts between them to form an internally consistent system of values
Characterization by a Value or Value Complex Adopts a long-term value system that is “pervasive, consistent, and predictable”
  1. Authors: Alexander W. Astin; Trudy W. Banta; K. Patricia Cross; Elaine El-Khawas; Peter T. Ewell; Pat Hutchings; Theodore, J. Marchese; Kay M. McClenney; Marcia Mentkowski; Margaret A. Miller; E. Thomas Moran; Barbara D. Wright
  2. Bloom, B.S., et al. Excerpts from Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the classification of education goals, handbook I: Cognitive domain.”  In L.W. Anderson & L. A. Sosniak (eds.), Bloom’s taxonomy:  A forty-year retrospective.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ben Jodrey is a content strategist at Velsoft Training Materials.