Definitions of Terms

Accommodations: Modifications in the way assessments are designed or administered so that students with disabilities can be included in the assessment. Assessment accommodations or adaptations might include Braille forms for blind students.

Active Learning: An approach where students are participating in learning beyond passively absorbing knowledge such as in a didactic session. Actively learning students are involved in solving problems, applying knowledge, working with other students, and engaging the material to construct their own understanding and use of the information. Examples of active learning methods include those methods where deeper thinking and analysis are the responsibility of the student and the faculty member acts as a coach or facilitator to achieve specified outcomes. Examples of active learning include: inquiry-based learning, case-study methods, project development, modeling, collaborative learning, problem-based learning, buzz groups or brainstorming, and simulations.

Assessment: Refers to a process where methods are used by a faculty member, department, program or institution to generate and collect data for evaluation of processes, courses, and programs with the ultimate purpose of evaluating overall educational quality and improving student learning. This term refers to any method used to gather evidence and evaluate quality and may include both quantitative and qualitative data.

Authentic Assessment: An assessment that requires students to generate a response to a question rather than choose from a set of responses provided to them. Exhibitions, investigations, demonstrations, written or oral responses, journals, and portfolios are examples of the assessment alternatives we think of when we use the term "alternative assessment." Ideally, alternative assessment requires students to actively accomplish complex and significant tasks, while bringing to bear prior knowledge, recent learning, and relevant skills to solve problems.

Basic Skills: Fundamental academic skills which are necessary for students to succeed in college-level courses. Such skills include reading, writing, mathematics, and student success.

Benchmark: A detailed description of a specific level of student performance expected of students at particular ages, grades, or development levels. Benchmarks are often represented by samples of student work. A set of benchmarks can be used as "checkpoints" to monitor progress toward meeting performance goals within and across grade levels.

Classroom-based Assessment: The formative and summative evaluation of student learning within a single course. This assessment involves evaluating the curriculum as designed, taught, and learned. It involves the collection of data aimed at measuring successful learning in the individual course and improving instruction with a goal to improving learning.

Core Competency: A skill, ability, or knowledge that students should attain by the end of a course, program, or set of services. This may include critical thinking, written and oral communication, awareness of human diversity, and personal and social responsibility.

Criteria: Guidelines, rules, characteristics, or dimensions that are used to judge the quality of student performance. Criteria indicate what we value in student responses, products or performances. They may be holistic, analytic, general, or specific. Scoring rubrics are based on criteria and define what the criteria mean and how they are used.

Criterion-based Assessments: Assessment evaluated or scored using a set of criteria to appraise or evaluate work. Criterion-referenced evaluation is based on proficiency, not subjective measures such as "improvement."

Direct Data: Data that measures the exact value. For instance, a math test directly measures a student's learning in math. (Contrast with indirect data below.)

Direct Measures: Methods of collecting information about student learning that require students to display their knowledge, skills, and/or abilities. Direct measures often require a systematic scoring system that employs a rubric.

Embedded Assessment: Embedded assessment occurs within the regular class or curricular activity. Class assignments linked to student learning outcomes through primary trait analysis, serve as grading and assessment instruments. Individual questions on exams can be embedded in numerous classes to provide departmental, program, or institutional assessment information. An additional benefit to embedded assessment is immediate feedback on the pedagogy and student needs.

Evidence of Performance: Quantitative or qualitative, direct or indirect data that provides information concerning the extent to which an institution meets the goals it has established and publicized to its stakeholders.

Formative Assessment: Formative assessment generates useful feedback for development and improvement. The purpose is to provide an opportunity to perform and receive guidance (such as in class assignments, quizzes, discussion, lab activities, etc.) that will improve or shape a final performance. This stands in contrast to summative assessment where the final result is a verdict and the participant may never receive feedback for improvement such as on a standardized test or licensing exam or a final exam.

Homegrown or Local Assessment: This type of assessment is developed and validated for a specific purpose, course, or function and is usually criterion-referenced to promote validity.

Indirect data: Data that measures a variable related to the intended value. For instance a person's math skills may be indirectly measured through an employer’s questionnaire asking about the computational skills of graduating students.

Information Competency: The ability to access, analyze, and determine the reliability of information on a given topic.

Likert Scale: A scale which assigns a numerical value to responses in order to quantify subjective data. The responses are usually along a continuum such as - responses of strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, or strongly agree- and are assigned values of such as 1-5. This allows easy manipulation of data but attention must be given to the validity and reliability of the tool.

Norm-Referenced Assessment: An assessment where student performance or performances are compared to a larger group. Usually the larger group or "norm group" is a national sample representing a wide and diverse cross-section of students. Students, schools, districts, and even states are compared or rank-ordered in relation to the norm group. The purpose of a norm-referenced assessment is usually to sort students and not to measure achievement towards some criterion of performance.

Primary Trait Analysis: (PTA) is the process of identifying major traits or characteristics that are expected in student work. After the primary traits are identified, specific criteria with performance standards are defined for each trait.

Qualitative Data: Data collected as descriptive information, such as a narrative or portfolio. This type of data, often collected in open-ended questions, feedback surveys, or summary reports, is more difficult to compare, reproduce, and generalize. It is bulky to store and to report; however, it is often the most valuable and insightful data generated. It may provide potential solutions or modifications in the form of feedback.

Quantitative Data: Data collected as numerical or statistical values. These data use actual numbers (scores, rates, etc) to express quantities of a variable. Qualitative data, such as opinions, can be displayed as numerical data by using Likert scaled responses which assigns a numerical value to each response (e.g. 5 = strongly agree to 1 = strongly disagree). This data is easy to store and manage; it can be generalized and reproduced, but has limited value due to the rigidity of the responses and must be carefully constructed to be valid.

Reliability: Reliability refers to the reproducibility of results over time or a measure of the consistency when an assessment tool is used multiple times. In other words, if the same person took the test five times, the data should be consistent. This refers not only to reproducible results from the same participant, but also to repeated scoring by the same or multiple evaluators.

Rubric: A rubric is a set of criteria used to determine scoring for an assignment, performance, or product. Rubrics may be holistic providing general guidance or analytical assigning specific scoring point values.

Standardized Assessment: Assessments created, tested, and usually sold by an educational testing company e.g. GRE’s, SAT, ACT for broad public usage and data comparison, usually scored normatively.

Student Learning Outcomes: SLOs are the specific measurable goals and results that are expected subsequent to a learning experience. These outcomes may involve knowledge (cognitive), skills (behavioral), or attitudes (affective) that provide evidence that learning has occurred as a result of a specified course, program activity, or process.

Summative Assessment: A summative assessment is a final determination of knowledge, skills, and abilities. This could be exemplified by exit or licensing exams, senior recitals, or any final evaluation which is not created to provide feedback for improvement, but is used for final judgments. Some midterm exams may fit in this category if it is the last time the student has an opportunity to be evaluated on specific material.

Validity: An indication that an assessment method accurately measures what it is designed to measure with limited effect from extraneous data or variables. To some extent this must also relate to the integrity of inferences made from the data.