For as long as we have been assessing, faculty have asked “I spend a lot of time and effort grading – why can’t I use those?” The answer is actually quite nuanced, and makes a lot of sense once we discuss it.

In truth, often the exact same assignments might be used for both a student’s grade and as part of program assessment, and this might be where some of the confusion comes from. However, the purpose behind evaluating the exact same artifacts are different.

Grading: Individual level

  • Performance of specific student
  • Feedback for an individual
  • Conducted by one instructor

Assessment: A group

  • Performance of a group or cohort as relates to learning outcomes
  • Feedback at the program or course level
  • Results yield actions for program improvement

Obviously grades have value, particularly to an individual. However, they can be composed of many other factors that likely are not tied specifically to an outcome. An assignment’s score likely has some components of learning outcomes throughout, but it might also include formatting, deductions for lateness, extra credit, etc.

Additionally, individual student grades cannot tell us how well a cohort or group is achieving outcomes, which in turn will not point us toward program improvement. Learning outcomes typically focus on identifying the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of mind that students take with them from a learning experience. They may also detail what the end result will be – what you want them to demonstrate, know, or do. While these are always part of a course, a graded assignment is a smaller aspect and montage of more than one outcome and factor.

However – that does not mean the two cannot work together! Here are a few examples of ways to use the same assignments for both grades and program assessment.

  • Chapter or Final Exam: focus on questions related to outcomes, consider embedded questions that could be used across courses.
  • Writing Assignments: use analytical scoring with a rubric, and conduct a norming session to assess outcomes
  • Coursework: link course activities to outcomes

For more ideas on designing assignments that can double as assessment instruments, be sure to check out:

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