Assessing student learning

Practices related to grading—both as an assessment of student performance and as a mechanism through which students receive feedback on their work — vary widely across disciplines, course levels, departments, institutions and instructors. However, there are several strategies that most instructors agree contribute to successful grading:

  • Creating clear grading criteria
  • Communicating these criteria to students
  • Giving constructive feedback
  • Employing time management strategies when grading large amounts of student work

This page provides an overview of key issues related to assessing student learning.

Establish assessment standards

It is strongly suggested that you explain assessment standards clearly when you introduce the course to your students and probably at several subsequent points during the quarter as well. Most students use grading criteria to determine what they should concentrate on learning in a course. By making your grading policies clear, you can focus students’ attention on what is most important for them to learn and retain.

Because grades communicate the relative weight of course goals and assignments and because grades in a course may have great influence on students’ future academic work, most students are very sensitive about grades and the criteria on which they are based. Typical questions may include:

  • Will this be on the test?
  • How much does the quiz count toward the final grade?
  • Do you consider attendance and participation?

Determine assessment criteria from the onset, explain these standards clearly to students, and reinforce their application consistently throughout the quarter.

Consistency is also important when it comes to concerns such as accepting late papers and taking more time than allotted for an exam. Attention to these matters in the beginning will save you time and energy later.

Keeping records

There are a number of tech tools to help you keep accurate records.  One such tool is Gradebook.  Contact UW-IT for a comprehensive list of options and assistance.

Keep accurate and thorough records of your evaluation of each student’s performance throughout the quarter. You should also keep your records for a while after the quarter is over, since students may come back later to question a grade, finish an incomplete or ask you to write a recommendation. Your records will help you to justify and/or reevaluate a student’s final grade if necessary.

When students ask you to change a grade, act carefully. Give yourself time for further investigation in order to help you prepare a fair and equitable response.  Note that UW policy states that “Except in the case of error, no instructor may change a grade that he or she has turned into the Registrar.”

If a student approaches you to contest a grade it can be helpful to have the student submit their request in writing, which will require the student to reflect on and justify their request. This also provides you with documentation should you be asked to explain your decision at a later point.  Finally, document your interactions with disgruntled students as promptly as possible so you have accurate notes for a subsequent discussion.

Using Canvas to facilitate assessment

The Canvas learning management system is a wonderful tool for creating formative and summative assessments. The “Quizzes” function in Canvas allows instructors to create:

  • Conventional, graded quizzes that reward points based on student responses.
  • Ungraded practice quizzes that allow students to test their own understanding as they move through course material.
  • Graded surveys that reward points for completing a questionnaire.
  • Ungraded surveys that gathers students’ opinions or other information.

Canvas Guides provide detailed instructions for how to use Canvas to create learning experiences. Check out all the resources they have for creating quizzes and exams.

Information for TAs

  • Develop a sense of your academic standards early on in the quarter in collaboration with your supervising faculty member and fellow TAs (if applicable).
  • Be consistent throughout the quarter. If you are working with other TAs, talk with them about grading criteria and approaches. This will ensure reliability and consistency across the entire scope of the class. If, for example, your grades are not in line with your colleagues’, discuss what your questions or assignments are designed to evaluate. Comparing grades on a set of assignments helps create and maintain standards for assessment.
  • Find out who is responsible for decisions about grade changes just in case a student contests a grade. Act carefully and in consultation with your supervising faculty member or TA coordinator.
  • In cases of cheating or plagiarism, the TA does not have the authority to take formal disciplinary action (See The University of Washington Student Conduct Code). Consult with your TA coordinator and/or supervising faculty member as soon as possible.

UW resources