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Assessment: Aligning outcomes, assessment, and instruction

What does it mean to align outcomes, assessments, and instruction?

When designing a learning experience, course or program, it is important that there is a good fit between the learning outcomes, assessments, and teaching and learning activities; in other words, that the three components are aligned (Biggs & Tang, 2011; Maki, 2010). This helps ensure teaching and learning activities enable students to develop the knowledge and skills in the learning outcomes and prepare for formal assessments. In turn, assessments that align with the outcomes and planned learning activities help teachers and students determine whether, and to what extent, the outcomes have been achieved. As teachers know, students tend to focus on what they think will be assessed. If assessment mirrors the learning outcomes and the teaching and learning activities, students will achieve the learning outcomes, as teachers and learners will be focused on the same goal (Biggs, 2003). 

How do I align my outcomes, assessment and instruction?

1. Identify learning outcomes (the knowledge, skills, attitudes, values students are expected to learn/know/be able to do or articulate by the end of the course, including level of cognitive complexity).

2. Determine acceptable evidence of learning and choose assessment tasks that will enable students to demonstrate (and receive feedback on) their learning.

3. Plan learning experiences and instructional activities that will best help students to develop the skills, knowledge, values or attitudes described in the learning outcomes, including opportunities for self-reflection and assessment.

How does alignment promote student learning?

1. Fosters deep learning, in contrast to the surface learning that can occur if students pay sole attention to (and learn) what they think they’ll be assessed on (Biggs 2003)

2. Helps to ensure balance in terms of assessment of learning outcomes (reduces gaps and over-assessment)

3. Promotes opportunities for self-assessment and feedback (on both teaching and learning)

4. Helps ensure teaching and learning goals and assessment practices are clear to students, helping them know what to focus on as well as how to demonstrate their learning

How can I plan assessments that are aligned to learning outcomes?

Start by looking at the verbs in the learning outcome statements. Assessment tasks should mirror the verbs (or the actions) and enable students to demonstrate their learning (what they know, can do, or appreciate/value). The chart below shows Bloom’s (revised) taxonomy of learning outcomes with examples of verbs and assessment tasks for each level. (Adapted from: Bloom’s Taxonomy, by P. Armstrong and Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, by Colorado College.)

Cognitive Process

Sample Verbs

Sample Assessments

Remember

choose, define, describe, duplicate, identify, label, list, name, recall, recognize, repeat, report, reproduce, state

Recall or recognize facts, concepts, or terms

  • Recall the names of important figures in art history
  • Recognize symptoms of vitamin D deficiency
  • Identify the components of a bacterial cell
  • List the steps involved in DNA replication

Understand

classify, compare, contrast, define, differentiate, discuss, estimate, exemplify, explain, identify, illustrate, infer,  interpret, locate, predict, recognize, report, select, summarize

Explain ideas or concepts

  • Classify a mental illness
  • Compare historical events with contemporary situations
  • Summarize the basic tenets of constructivism
  • Explain the causes of deforestation

Apply

apply, calculate, classify, complete, demonstrate, examine, implement, infer, interpret, modify, operate, outline, predict, schedule, sketch, solve, use

Use information or a skill in a new situation

  • Operate a table saw
  • Interpret x-ray film
  • Sketch graphs using provided data
  • Apply principles of research ethics in designing an online survey

Analyze

analyze, arrange, categorize, classify, compare, connect, contrast, deconstruct, differentiate, distinguish, examine, experiment, explain, integrate, investigate, organize, prioritize, question, relate, simplify, test

Break material into its constituent parts and determine how the parts relate to one another and/or to an overall structure or purpose

  • Explain the relationship between different flora and fauna in an ecological setting
  • Compare different ways of solving equations
  • Prioritize health and safety requirements in the design of a public space
  • Distinguish which statements in a politician’s speech are based on fact and which on opinion

Evaluate

appraise, argue, compare, consider, contrast, critique, defend, determine, evaluate, judge, justify, measure, recommend, relate, review, select, summarize, support, validate, value, weigh

Make judgements based on criteria and standards; justify a stand or position

  • Detect inconsistencies within a process or product
  • Judge which of two methods is the most effective way to solve a given problem
  • Critique government policies on class size in public schools in the late 20th century
  • Assess the validity of an argument based on the evidence presented in a scholarly article

Create

arrange, assemble, build, collect, combine, compile, construct, create, design, develop, devise, formulate, generate, hypothesize, integrate, invent, investigate, manage, modify, organize, perform, plan, prepare, rearrange, reconstruct, revise, specify, synthesize

Put elements together to form a new coherent or functional whole; produce new or original work

  • Design stage props for a theater production
  • Plan a data-informed marketing strategy for a new product
  • Compose a piece of music
  • Write a short story

 

Example: Soccer (check out more discipline specific examples here)

Let's take the example of teaching soccer skills. Here, the teaching and learning activities are aligned to (and thereby support) students’ achievement of the learning outcome. The assessment task however, is not aligned to the outcome or the teaching and learning activities; it doesn’t allow students to demonstrate whether and how well they are able to perform offensive and defensive drills:

Learning Outcome

Assessment

Teaching & Learning Activities & Experiences

Students will be able to perform individual offensive and defensive skills and strategies in 11-a-side games.

Students provide written responses to short-answer questions on offensive and defensive strategies.

Students watch video demonstrations of skills and strategies.

Instructor demonstrates offensive and defensive drills.

Students practice offensive and defensive skills in 11-a-side games.

Below is an example of an assessment that demonstrates better alignment with the learning outcome, and activities:

Learning Outcome

Assessment

Teaching & Learning Activities & Experiences

Students will be able to perform individual offensive and defensive skills and strategies in 11-a-side games.

Students perform offensive and defensive drills in small groups.

Students use individual offensive and defensive skills during an 11-a-side game.

Students watch video demonstrations of skills and strategies.

Instructor demonstrates offensive and defensive drills.

Students practice offensive and defensive skills in 11-a-side games.