This is NOT a test… or is it?!

April 11, 2018

Graded exams can be stressful, tedious, and a poor measurement of actual knowledge retention. So, if we agree that graded right and wrong answers often are not the answer; then what is?


A teaching resource from Stanford University states that, “Class evaluations and observations provide excellent feedback about student satisfaction and teaching style, but they don’t provide the important detail of how much your students are learning.” This resources goes on to advise that a method for measuring retention is through very short exercises at the conclusion of a learning session.


Just a few moments of reflection can provide students with the opportunity to form more in-depth learning habits and retain relevant information.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses the paradox of transfer and test taking. Retention is the memorization of information and the ability to spurt out facts and dates for longer than two weeks. However, the more important capability is transfer. Transfer is the ability to critically analyze and apply your understanding. Right and wrong questions typically test the retention of information.


Formative and authentic assessments are the more advanced measures taken to gauge transfer.


How to develop Formative Assessments

Laura Greenstein states that, “Formative assessment is purposefully directed toward the student. It does not emphasize how teachers deliver information but, rather, how students receive that information, how well they understand it, and how they can apply it.” This type of assessment actively engages the student in their own learning. Their perceptions, emotions, personal stories, and experiences inform their education. Empowering the student to express their new knowledge by applying it to their own life is a type of formative assessment. This method allows the instructor to provide a map for learning where the student explores their own journey, guided by a specific learning outcome.


How to develop Authentic Assessments

John Mueller defines authentic assessments as, “A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.” Authentic tasks should be relevant and easily direct students to apply their new found understanding and mastery.


There are four steps to developing authentic assessments.

  1. IDENTIFY the knowledge the student will gain during the lesson.
  2. SELECT a task that the student should be able to perform as a result of that knowledge.
  3. DETERMINE a construct of how the task should be performed within the course.
  4. CREATE a rubric for how you will provide feedback, assess mastery, and give encouragement after the task is completed.


Dream See Do offers a variety of ways to facilitate formative and authentic assessments. Here are just a few quick tips.

  • Insert self assessments (“forms”) to gather input and gain insight into their individual paths.
  • Encourage students to provide real-life examples of what they are learning and how it can be applied to their experiences.
  • Provide feedback often, with mastery assessment rubrics (and comments), to keep them on the right path. Guide their journey instead of restricting it.


Remember that the intent of exercises and tests are not to measure your own success, but rather to cultivate a well-developed learning environment for your participant.


Learner-centered strategy starts with empathy and insight and leads to inclusive, successful design.



Ready to expand your work online? Try this free course to learn how your own interactive, online learning community can increase your impact and client retention.