Tools - Embedded Assignment
An assessment technique that is probably the least intrusive to both student and instructor is using an "Embedded Assessment," an assignment that is already part of the usual course or program experience. This can be any sort of work, such as an exercise, test, project, presentation, etc. If it can be evaluated in a way that reflects on a specific learning goal, or several learning goals independently, it can be used for assessment. It is a good way to assess curricular learning goals that are tied to particular courses. This might happen in the case of a required course that is closely tied to a goal of the program. It is also used effectively in a course near the end of the program sequence that provides students the opportunity to present work that reflects some depth of what they've learned.
This brings up a common confusion about the use of grades in assessment activities. Traditionally we use grades to provide general feedback to a student about overall performance on an activity or in a course. This use is not very helpful for assessment of specific learning goals. If we know the average grade of students on an assignment or in the course, it doesn't tell us very much about whether particular goals are being achieved. That is, it doesn't in and of itself provide information that would be useful in improving the course or program.
But if a grade can be formulated (compartmentalized, deconstructed, unpacked...) in a way that reflects individual learning goals, it could potentially yield very useful feedback to the instructor, when summed across all students. In this case grades would be entirely appropriate for assessment.
The simplest example of this is when an assignment and its score or grade reflect a single learning goal. For example, an assignment at the end of a required statistics course in psychology that asks students to critique the method and conclusion section of a research paper could be used to assess the learning goal: "Students will be able to evaluate the validity of conclusions presented in research reports."
A more complicated situation is if the grade reflects several things. In the example above if the grade reflects not just the analysis, but also the quality of writing, these components of the assignment would need to receive separate scores in order to be useful as an assessment tool. If there are numerous components to a grade, the development of a scoring rubric might be beneficial. If the assignment is a test, it might be straightforward to develop a "test blueprint" that identifies which questions are tied to any of a number of goals reflected in the test.
When taken across all students, the results of the embedded assignment can provide specific feedback about the extent to which the goal (or goals) it reflects is being achieved. This information can inform discussion about the course or the curriculum to identify where improvements might be made.