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Assessment Planning

Nicole Messier, CATE Instructional Designer
January 27, 2022

WHAT? Heading link

Understanding the different strategies, purposes, and functions of assessments is vital to successful assessment planning.

Assessments occur at various times throughout the learning process as well as have different purposes. Formative assessments occur during teaching and learning whereas summative assessments occur at the end of teaching and learning.

Assessments can be viewed through three broad assessment strategies:

  •  Assessment for learning (AfL) is designed to adapt current instruction.
  • Assessment as learning (AaL) is designed as a learning experience.
  • Assessment of learning (AoL) is designed to determine if students have demonstrated progress towards proficiency of learning objectives.

Each of these strategies has a specific purpose and can help determine the type of assessment an instructor should design.


What forms of assessment do you use?

Assessment for Learning

Assessment for learning (AfL) is the utilization of data collected from formative assessments, which are learning activities administered to students before, during, or after class. These assessments are utilized not only to inform current teaching and instruction but also provide students with immediate feedback on their learning as well as opportunities for metacognition, goal setting, and self-assessment of learning.

Examples of formative assessments categorized as Assessment for Learning (AfL)


Assessment for learning allows the instructor to respond to student feedback and adapt their teaching practices to support current students’ learning needs. Faculty can subsequently differentiate the learning experiences to meet individual students where they are with respect to the level of understanding or skill proficiency.


Example 1 – Assessment for Learning

An instructor creates a series of pre-class scenario-based questions to gauge students’ understanding of the readings and ability to apply knowledge. The instructor then adapts their lecture to focus on the concepts that students struggled to apply or misunderstood.

This example demonstrates a formative assessment because the instructor collected the data from the student responses to inform their pedagogical decisions. If the instructor wanted to encourage students to engage in the pre-class work, then they can provide extrinsic motivation by awarding points for completion.

Assessment as Learning

Assessment as learning (AaL) is developing formative and summative assessments that utilize evidence-based learning strategies, promote self-regulation, and provide reflective learning. This type of assessment is designed to strengthen the cognitive processes of students by providing opportunities for metacognition, which is an awareness of one’s own knowledge and thinking processes as well as an ability to self-monitor one’s learning path and adapt or make changes to one’s learning behaviors.

Examples of learning activities categorized as Assessment as Learning (AaL)

  • Think-pair-share – asking students to turn to their neighbor in class or small breakout groups in an online discussion and share their thoughts, ideas, or answers to a topic or question.
  • Muddiest point – asking students to identify a topic or theme that is unclear, or that they do not have the confidence in their knowledge yet.
  • One-minute paper – asking students to write down their thoughts as a brief essay on a topic at the end of a lecture.
  • Concept map – asking students to create a diagram showing relationships between concepts.

Formative assessments can support and motivate students to develop learning strategies (e.g., study skills), including spaced practice, retrieval practice, interleaving, elaboration, concrete examples, and dual coding. Another example is providing students with the opportunities to self-assess their work during the revision process when writing a paper or creating an opportunity to self-assess their learning through a practice exam with feedback before the graded summative assessment.


Summative assessments can foster critical thinking, metacognition, communication, and problem-solving skills as well as the ability to apply knowledge learned to real-world scenarios. Examples of summative assessments include project-based learning, problem-based learning, and authentic assessments.


Example 2 – Assessment as Learning

An instructor designs an assignment as learning by utilizing three learning strategies: elaboration, concrete examples, and dual coding. In the assignment, the students are asked to develop questions (elaborate), provide original examples (concrete examples), and create visuals (dual coding) for each of the terms in their concept map (a diagram that shows relationships between concepts). This assignment was developed as learning by providing an opportunity for students to reflect on their current understanding and learning in the course. As the instructor began grading, they discovered several issues.

The first issue is that several students mixed up terms and applied incorrect examples to the terms. The instructor then uses this information to adapt their review session to clarify the misunderstanding and misconceptions of students. The second issue is that some students did not know how to create a concept map. The instructor decides that next term they will provide resources for students to build a concept map as well as share an exemplar concept map and create a grading rubric to support student understanding of assessment expectations.

This example could demonstrate a formative assessment or summative assessment. This assignment might have been given in the middle of the unit, at the end of the unit, or at the end of the course. If this example was placed at the end of the course, it could be used to encourage retrieval practice by having students create these concept maps after the learning has taken place and then present them to the class as a study session before a summative assessment such as a final exam.

Assessment of Learning

Assessment of learning (AoL) is the utilization of data collected from summative assessments to confirm students have demonstrated adequate progress towards proficiency of learning objectives, which may translate into the overall success of student learning.

Examples of summative assessments categorized as Assessment of Learning (AoL)

  • Unit Test
  • Written assignments
  • Mid-term exam
  • Final exam

Such assessments typically are assigned a higher point value relative to other assignments in the course and are sometimes referred to as “high-stakes assessments” since the outcomes of which can have a significant impact on a student’s final grade in a course. Additional guidance on rethinking high-stakes assessments is available in Section II: Rethinking Assessment in the Guidelines for Assessment in Online Environments Report.


Example 3 – Assessment of Learning

An instructor designs a final assessment that allows student choice by selecting a product for grading. Students are given three choices for their final product: presentation slides with speaker’s notes, video recording, or paper. The assignment instructions and rubric provide clear expectations to guide students on the development of their final project. The rubric explains the grading criteria allowing for consistent and objective grading, which will allow for valid and reliable data collection. This data will help the instructor to examine the course outcomes and determine elements in the course that need to be analyzed further or adjusted for the next term.

This assessment is a summative assessment that is designed to measure learning. Concepts of universal design for learning are applied in this assessment by providing student choice, clear expectations, and grading criteria. This assessment could also be viewed through the lens of assessment as learning, as students reflect, analyze, and summarize their learning.

WHY? Heading link

Why should you reflect on your assessment practices through the lens of these three assessment strategies?

A review of over 250 studies about assessment and learning determined it is the intentional use of assessment, which is the deliberate, planned, and purposeful integration of assessment with instruction as a means to gather evidence of student learning and use that information to make data-informed decisions about your teaching, that improves student achievement (Earl, 2006).

These three strategies foster the intentionality of assessment planning by shifting focus from “what data can I collect to improve student learning?” to “how can I create learning experiences as assessments?” This shift of focus from assessment of learning (AoL) being the main strategy of assessment to assessment for learning (AfL) and assessment as learning (AaL) has been occurring over the last few decades as research has shown the benefits to student learning outcomes.

Impact of Assessment as Learning

In a recent study on the effects of AaL on academic performance and student motivation (Hinduja, 2021), researchers found a significant increase when assessment as learning interventions were implemented. The assessment as learning intervention included self-assessment of coursework, identifying areas for improvement, and setting goals for actionable next steps.

As shown in figure 1, the results of the study showed that both the control and experimental group showed improvements in academic performance but the experimental group, which received the assessment as learning intervention, had a significantly higher increase in mean scores. The control group experienced a 26.3% improvement whereas the experimental group that received the intervention of AaL experienced a 65.5% improvement in academic performance, more than a 2-fold increase.

Regarding the changes in student self-reported motivation, as shown in figure 2, again both groups exhibited an increase, but the experimental group’s score was 8.87% higher than the control group. The control group experienced a 1.23% increase whereas the experimental group that received the intervention of AaL experienced a 10.1% increase in student motivation.

Growth percentages for dependent variable academic performance

Figure 1. Control group’s mean score on pre-test was 8.63 and mean score on post-test was 10.9 – an increase of 26.3%. The experimental group’s mean score on the pre-test was 8.46 and the mean score on post-test was 14 – an increase of 65.5% (Hinduja, 2021).

growth percentages for dependent variable motivation

Figure 2.

Figure 2. Control group’s mean score on motivation (pre-test) was 14.59 and mean score on motivation (post-test) was 14.77 – an increase of 1.23%. The experimental group’s mean score on motivation (pre-test) was 14.77 and the mean score on motivation (post-test) was 16.27 – an increase of 10.1% (Hinduja, 2021).

Elements of Effective and Equitable Assessments

Student performance on assessments have shown improvement when the following elements were incorporated into the teaching, learning, and assessment process (Hinduja, 2021; Schellekens, 2021):

  • The instructor explains learning goals and success criteria to students. This explanation helps students understand what the demonstration of proficiency or high-quality work looks like.
  • The instructor ensures alignment of assessment and learning activities in the class. This alignment will help to deter the fragmentation of the curriculum and ensure students understand the connection or relationship between what they are learning and how they are being assessed.
  • The instructor creates a safe learning environment for students. This safety allows students to take risks, make errors, and engage more freely in the learning process.
  • Instructor values equity and adapts the learning experience to students’ individual needs. This adaptation ensures that instructors can meet students where they are at and support individual student success.


  • Instructor provides descriptive, diagnostic, and immediate feedback to students. This type of feedback will motivate and guide students with actionable steps on how to improve their performance.
  • Involve students in assessing their own learning. This involvement will provide students with a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning.
  • Instructor collects, monitors, and reflects on student progress in achieving the course learning objectives. This utilization of data to make decisions, a process we refer to as reflective teaching, will ensure continuous quality improvements.
  • Students and instructors are assessment literate. In other words, students need to understand the purpose behind the assessment as well as the expectations of the assessment. Instructors need to understand how to use assessment data effectively to make decisions about instruction.

HOW? Heading link

Implementing assessment for learning (AfL), assessment as learning (AaL), and assessment of learning (AoL) requires instructors to reflect on the course elements and variables that might impact their successful implementation. Some of these elements include class size, discipline, and modality.

Class Size

These assessment strategies (AfL, AaL, and AoL) can be implemented in any course size from small seminar courses to large lectures. Some factors to consider regarding class size include:

  • Types of graded and ungraded formative assessments (AfL and AaL)
    • Small class sizes may allow for more formative assessments with personalized feedback.
    • Larger class sizes may require instructors to utilize EdTech tools to deliver formative assessments with immediate feedback.


  • Ability to provide timely and effective feedback for formative assessments (AfL and AaL)
    • Small class sizes may allow for more immediacy of feedback and descriptive or personalized feedback.
    • Again, larger class sizes may require instructors to utilize EdTech tools to deliver timely and effective feedback to students.


These assessment strategies can be implemented in any type of course. One recommendation is for instructors to reflect on ways to implement assessment as learning (AaL) in major coursework.


Another recommendation is for instructors to examine current assessments in courses that have low student success rates to identify opportunities for assessment as learning (AaL) to improve student performance.


The modality of your course will influence the planning and delivery methods for assessments. The use of EdTech tools can support the increased use of formative assessments in all courses, including on-campus, online synchronous, online asynchronous, and hybrid courses. EdTech tools can also increase the timeliness of delivering feedback to students in formative assessments (AfL and AaL).


In online synchronous, hybrid, and on-campus courses, polling and survey tools can be used to provide immediate feedback to students during scheduled classes. Grading tools like rubrics in Blackboard (LMS) and Gradescope, can provide descriptive feedback to students in all modalities as well. A discussion board or online quiz can be created in Blackboard (LMS) for online synchronous, online asynchronous, and hybrid courses.



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