Recommendations for Assessments

Assessments are the bridge between teaching and learning. As instructors, faculty, teaching assistants, and instructional designers, we have a great responsibility in the design and delivery of assessments to improve student learning. The following recommendations provide guidance in designing assessments that promote student learning while fostering an integrity environment. 

Create Authentic Assessments

An authentic assessment is an assessment that is engaging, contains worthy problems or questions of importance in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replica of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field (Wiggins, 1993). The goal is to involve written and performative measures, to develop meaningful and applicable skills, and to advance the knowledge of the “how” over that of the “what.”

Typical Tests

Authentic Tasks

Indicators of Authenticity

Require correct responses

Require a high-quality product or performance, and a justification of the solutions to problems encountered

Correctness is not the only criterion; Students must justify their answers

Must be unknown to the student in advance to be valid

Should be known in advance to students as much as possible

The tasks and standards for judgment should be known or predictable

Are disconnected from real-world contexts and constraints 

Connected to real-world contexts and constraints; require the student to “do” the subject

The context and constraints of the task are like those encountered by practitioners in the discipline

Contain items that isolate particular skills or facts

Integrated challenges require a range of skills and knowledge that must be used in coordination

Tasks are multifaceted and complex, even if there is a right answer

Easily scored items

Involve complex tasks for which there may be no one correct answer, and that may not be easily scored

The validity of the assessment is not sacrificed in favor of reliable scoring

Are “one-shot”; students get one chance to show their learning

Are iterative; contain recurring tasks

Students may use knowledge or skills in several different ways or contexts

Provide a score

Provide usable diagnostic information about students’ skills and knowledge

The assessment is designed to improve future performance, and students are important “consumers” of such information

Comparison of Typical Tests vs. Authentic Tasks


  • Have students work on research projects, presentations, proposals, and/or reports 
  • Incorporate case studies into the course that focus on real-world scenarios
  • Provide labs/simulations
  • Use discussions in your online course. 
  • If using tests or quizzes, students respond to open-ended questions that require higher-level thinking

Provide Frequent Formative Assessments 

Formative assessments are brief, low-stakes, frequent evaluations during the course. They are designed to improve students' skills or understanding of specific course concepts.

Note: Formative assessments differ from summative evaluations. Summative assessments are quizzes and tests that evaluate learning at the end of the course (E.g., tests, final exams, reports, end-term projects).


  • Weekly assignments
  • Self-check quizzes 
  • Group activities 
  • Peer-evaluation 
  • Active Learning Techniques 
    • Minute papers: “What is the most important point you learned today?”; and, “What point remains least clear to you?” 
    • Muddiest point: “What was the muddiest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, film, etc.]?” The term “muddiest” means “most unclear” or “most confusing”. 
    • “What is the principle?”: After students figure out what type of problem they are dealing with, they often must decide what principle(s) to apply in order to solve the problem. 
    • Think-Pair-Share: Students are given an opportunity to listen and share individual ideas on a topic with each other. 
    • Lecture check: Provide short quizzes during live lectures or embedded within lecture videos. 

Be Thoughtful in the Creation of Online Tests

When creating a test for your course, consider the learning outcomes of your course and what you expect the students to be able to accomplish by the end of the course. Focus on higher-level skills such as analysis and application of key concepts and topics.  

Consider including comprehension, application, and analysis items on tests so that you are assessing fewer facts and more higher-level thinking.  

  • Comprehension Items: Ask students to recognize new statements as consistent or inconsistent with a principle or rule or idea or "new" example can be presented in which students must recognize some concept.  
  • Application Items: Create questions that test students’ ability to apply concepts.  
  • Analysis Items: Ask students to interpret or analyze material in multiple-choice items. Diagrams, graphs, and tables can serve as good sources for analytical questions. Students can be asked to interpret information presented in such sources or about possible conclusions drawn from them. 


  • Utilize pools in the learning management system to create a database of questions that can be deployed randomly.  
  • Randomize the questions and answers. 
  • Emphasize formative assessments over summative assessments. Provide different assessments tools throughout the course and minimize high-stakes tests such as major midterm and final exams.  

Provide Opportunities for Self-assessment

Self-assessment involves students evaluating their own work and learning progress to locate gaps and difficulties that require intervention.


  • Define the criteria by which students assess their work 
  • Teach students how to apply the criteria 
  • Give students feedback on their self-assessments 
  • Give students help in using self-assessment data to improve performance 
  • Provide sufficient time for revision after self-assessment 
  • Do not turn self-assessment into self-evaluation by counting it toward a grade. 
  • Provide multiple opportunities for self-assessment through ungraded self-check quizzes 
  • Incorporate reflective prompts & journals throughout the learning. Ask questions such as (Andrade & Valtcheva, 2009):
    • What have you learned? 
    • What did you find easy about learning to …? 
    • How would you do things differently next time?  
    • What did you find difficult while you were learning to …? 
    • What helped you when something got tricky …? 
    • How would you change this activity for another group/class who were learning to …?

Provide Rubrics or Detailed Grading Criteria to Students

A rubric articulates assignment expectations by specifying the criteria, or what counts, and describing levels of quality from excellent to poor.

Using a rubric can help you grade more efficiently because you know exactly what you’re assessing.

You may find that communication is improved with your students because a rubric identifies strengths and weaknesses of criteria in an assignment. When you use rubrics, you may find arguments around grades are reduced. Instead, you and your students can focus on continuous improvement by using a rubric as evidence of performance.


Research on Assessments

  • Ambrose, S., Bridges, M. W., Lovett, M. C., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Andrade, H. & Valtcheva, A. (2009). Promoting learning and achievement through self-assessment. Theory Into Practice, 48, 12-19.
  • Gibbons, A., Mize, D. C., and Rogers, K. L. (2002). That’s my story and I’m sticking to it: Promoting academic integrity in the online environment. ED-MEDIA 2002 World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications, Denver, CO 
  • Liu, S., & Zappe, S. E., & Mena, I. B., & Litzinger, T. A., & Hochstedt, K. S., & Bertram Gallant, T. (2015, June), Faculty Perspectives About Incorporating Academic Integrity into Engineering Courses. Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 
  • McNabb, L., & Olmstead, A. (2009). Communities of integrity in online courses: Faculty member beliefs and strategies. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2), 208-221. 
  • Palazzo, D. J., Lee, Y., Warnakulasooriya, R., & Pritchard, D. E. (2010). Patterns, correlates, and reduction of homework copying. Physics Review Special Topics–Physics Education Research, 6, 1–11. 
  • Passow, H., Mayhew, M., Finelli, C., Harding, T., & Carpenter, D. (2006). Factors influencing engineering students’ decisions to cheat by type of assessment. Research in Higher Education, 47(6), 643-684 
  • Scanlan, Craig. (2006). Strategies to promote a climate of academic integrity and minimize student cheating and plagiarism. Journal of allied health. 35. 179-85. 
  • Sotiriadou, P., Logan, D., Daly A., and Guest R. (2019). The role of authentic assessment to preserve academic integrity and promote skill development and employability. Studies in Higher Education. 
  • Renard, L. (2000). Cut and paste 101: Plagiarism and the net. Educational Leadership, 57(4) 38-42. 
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