How can faculty present important content to be learned in ways that improve student learning?

Page 4: Assessment-Centered Learning Environments

Assessment Centered: Involves requiring high standards and frequent opportunities for feedback, reflection, and revision in order to enhance the quality of learning. Valuable information for faculty and students may be obtained from assessment measures. Obviously, these can be created in various formats and collected in a number of ways. Important features of an assessment-centered learning environment include:

  • High standards
  • Frequent opportunities for feedback, reflection, and revision, in order to enhance the quality of learning

Having high standards means that the instructor expects everyone in the class to succeed, not because expectations are lowered for some but rather because the instructor creates opportunities for each student to meet these standards.

Formative Assessment

One important way an instructor might create these opportunities is through formative assessment. An environment of formative assessment overlaps a learner-centered environment on the issue of making students’ thinking visible, a prerequisite to helping them meet high standards.

An environment of formative assessment is one designed to provide continual feedback about preconceptions and performances to both learners and instructors. This feedback, which may be from any number of sources including texts, media, instructor comments, and class discussions, allows learners to reflect on and revise not only their proposed solutions to a problem but also the way they approached the problem. The feedback from formative assessments can also help instructors by suggesting ways they might improve their instruction and by identifying where and how specific learners need further help.

A critical function of formative assessment is to help learners develop metacognitive skills. This includes developing students’ abilities to take some measure, over time, of what they have learned and what they are struggling with. It also involves learning to recognize and differentiate between the strategies that are working well for their own problem-solving and those that are not as effective. In other words, helping learners to develop their metacognitive abilities means helping them to develop the “habits of mind” that will allow them to consistently assess and improve their own learning processes and progress, as opposed to always relying on others to assess them (Bransford, J. D., Vye, N. J., & Bateman, H., 2002). 


Listen to the audio clip below to further your understanding of assessment-centered learning environment (time: 1:26).

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Summative Assessment

Whereas formative assessment measures learning progress in order to encourage reflection and revision, summative assessment should be designed to measure the results of learning. Thus, formative assessment might be viewed as part of the journey of learning, whereas summative assessment might be viewed as a periodic gathering of data points that provides quality control and serves the important function of legitimizing credentials. For more information about summative assessment see Knowing What Students Know (National Resource Council, 2001).

Now that you’ve had a brief summary of an assessment-centered learning environment, you might like to take a few minutes to interact with the Challenge scenarios below.

 Test as a Gift

John Bransford contrasts the difference between formative and summative assessment in the movie “Test as a Gift” and in the subsequent audio.

(time: 0:36)

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John Bransford, PhD
Professor Emeritus
University of Washington, Seattle

(time: 1:31)

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 Jim Pelligrino
James Pellegrino, PhD
University of Illinois, Chicago
Distinguished Professor in Psychology and Education
and Co-Director of the Center
for the Study of Learning,
Instruction, and Teacher Development

In the following audio clip, James Pellegrino describes the importance of assessment practices.

(time: 2:47)

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Assessment-Centered Example

Formative Assessment

Community, Learner Centered, Knowledge Centered, Assessment CenteredFor an example of formative assessment, view the IRIS Module activity in What Do You See?: Perceptions of Disability. This is an example of formative assessment because the questions posed to students allow them to:

  • Provide continual feedback about preconceptions and new content learned
  • Reflect on their approaches and responses to the activity
  • Determine the effectiveness of their learning methods
  • Use this information to self-assess their learning

Summative Assessment

View a few of the Assessment questions from the IRIS Module Addressing Disruptive and Noncompliant Behaviors (Part 1): Understanding the Acting-Out Cycle. These Assessment questions allow students to demonstrate subject mastery in both factual knowledge and content application. The instructor and the students can use these results as a measure of student learning.

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