Designing Assessments

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What are assessments?

Assessments are broken down into two types: formative and summative.

Formative assessment: Formal and informal processes teachers and students use to gather evidence for the purpose of improving learning. Teachers use assessment information during the learning to diagnose student needs, plan next steps in instruction, provide students with targeted practice, and offer effective feedback.

Summative assessment: Assessment information used to provide evidence of student achievement for the purpose of making a judgment about student competence or program effectiveness.

(source: From Classroom Assessment for Student Learning by Jan Chappuis, Rick Stiggins, Steve Chappuis and Judith Arter)

Summative Assessment: Usually given at the end of instruction to assess mastery of learning outcomes. Types: exams, presentations, creation of a product, portfolio, group presentation. Formative assessments are given frequently throughout the course to evaluate progress. *Feedback must be given to be effective. Types include learning logs/HW/activities, discussions, reflection, group presentations, practice quizzes.

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Authentic Assessment

Authentic Assessment means assessing learning by having students do something real, as opposed to a more traditional testing approach.

Sometimes it is not feasible to have completely authentic assessment for time, financial or safety reasons. For example, if your students are learning about putting out forest fires, you can’t very likely set a forest on fire to give them an authentic experience of trying to contain it. However, it is a good goal to try to be as authentic as possible in your learning experiences, including assessment.



A rubric is a scoring guide and feedback tool that outlines expectations for an assessment. It includes standards (how well the criteria are demonstrated) and criteriathe key elements of performance that are being assessed). Rubrics…

  • Set clear expectations for performance
  • Speed up marking.
  • Set objective criteria for performance.
  • Clearly connect to goals.
  • Are a tool for learning as well as marking.

Example: A Rubric for Creating Nachos

Learning Outcome: Create an authentic three-course Mexican meal.
Assessment Goal: Create an appealing nacho dish including cheese, toppings, and sides.
Criteria Strong Medium Weak (Not Yet)
Chips Crispy, flavourful, and hold toppings well (intact). Slightly soggy or lacking in flavour<, somewhat intact. Soggy, stale, crumbly/broken.
Cheese Plentiful, layered throughout, fully melted. Lacking in quantity or distribution, or partially melted. Not enough cheese, not well distributed, and not fully melted.
Toppings Creative, plentiful, well distributed, bite-sized. Basic, inappropriate size, or lacking in quantity or distribution. Underwhelming or missing, of inappropriate or inconsistent size.
Sides Fresh, plentiful, and varied. Not enough, or stale, or not varied.  Not enough, or missing.
Presentation  Arrives hot, visually appealing.  Arrives lukewarm or messy.  Arrives cold, or unappealing. 


Common Assessment Types

Dropbox Assignments:

These assignments may come in several forms, like asking students to write a research paper, self-reflection document, PowerPoint presentation, or any other assignment that requires a student to draft or complete a file and submit it for subjective review and grading. To guide students in the completion of such assignments and provide a consistent format, consider using the Template for Assignments This template ensures students understand how the assessment is linked to course outcomes and the criteria for success.

Quizzes – Multiple-Choice Questions:

While multiple-choice questions are not always the most authentic assessment of students’ learning, sometimes they are necessary. But how do you write a good (defensible) multiple-choice question?

Each question must:

  • minimize the amount of reading in each item (aim for grade 10 reading level).
  • include a stem (statement or question to which learners respond).
  • avoid vague frequency terms (e.g. always, never, often, usually).
  • include the central idea of the question in the stem instead of the choices.
  • ensure the directions in the stem are very clear.
  • word the stem positively (i.e. avoid negatives such as NOT or EXCEPT, but capitalize if used).
  • not use “which of the following…”.
  • use “which” before a noun and “what” before a verb.
  • not include more than one sentence.
  • contain four answer options:
    • 1 key (best or most appropriate of available options)
    • 3 distractors (plausible yet incorrect options to the stem).
    • A single, specific issue (as concretely as possible).
    • Acronyms spelled out.
    • vary the location of the correct answer.
    • ensure distractors and key all follow grammatically from the stem, and are homogeneous in content and grammatical structure.
    • ensure all options are of the same length (count the numbers of words!).
    • place options in logical (e.g. alphabetical or numerical) order.
    • avoid “none of the above” and “all of the above”.
    • make all distractors plausible.
    • phrase choices positively (avoid negatives, such as NOT).
    • avoid clues to the right answer, such as:
      • always, never, completely, and absolutely.
      • options that are identical or similar to words in the stem.
      • grammatical inconsistencies that clue test-taker to the correct option.
      • a conspicuously correct option.
      • pairs or triplets of options that clue test-taker to the correct option
      • blatantly absurd, ridiculous options.

Click Multiple Choice – quiz questions for a printable PDF version of the source document. 

Classroom Assessment Techniques:


Considering Assessment Accessibility:

Wherever possible, applying UDL guidelines to assessments supports all students’ success. This can be done by including additional time on assessments for students to read carefully, evaluate their answers, and potentially lower anxiety; all which ensures a more authentic assessment of learner skills and knowledge. Faculty can determine which of their assessments would be best suited to additional time, and this does not need to be applied across the board. Proactively adding additional time to assessments can reduce the effort of arranging time accommodations through Accessible Education Services (AES).

As the most common additional time accommodations are typically 50% to 100%, the recommendation is to add 100% additional time to assessments when possible or alternatively, unlimited time. It is essential that students be informed that additional time has been added.

Review the steps below:

    1. Determine where additional time can be proactively added to assessments in the course.
    2. Determine the appropriate length of time.
    3. Add the additional time to the assessment.
    4. Modify the bold text below and provide the following statement anywhere assessment information has been provided (for example, on the course learning plan, the online course overview page, etc.):

Additional Time for Online Course Quizzes/Tests/Exams

The quizzes/tests/exams in this course have been designed using Universal Design for Learning guidelines and (give the percentage) additional time has already been added to each quiz/test/exam in support of all students.

In addition, Flexible Due Dates should also be considered and incorporated whenever possible in your courses. There are many ways you can add flexibility to your assignment policies, and doing so offers benefits to all students as well as faculty. For more information and ideas that you can tailor to your own courses, read Flexible Due Dates.


Designing Assessments for Academic Integrity

There are several strategies to encourage academic integrity in both in-person and alternate delivery courses. These strategies range from providing resources that set students up for success, to designing assessments that make it difficult for students to plagiarize: 

    • If possible, use authentic assessments that emphasize problem-solving, links to personal experience, or focus on distinctive tasks. For example, ask students to “evaluate,” “create,” or “analyze” a given theory or problem.
    • Consider including a critical reflection component where students reflect on their own learning.
    • Include follow-up questions such as “Expand upon the ideas behind the information you referenced” or “Explain why you choose this description, example, phrase, reference, etc.”
    • Use scaffolded, multi-stage assignments, where students submit multiple drafts of their work
    • Use D2L’s Quizzes tool features such as randomized question order and response option order, to decrease the potential for academic misconduct.
    • Use timed assessments only when learning outcomes warrant a timed assessment.
    • Communicate the College’s academic integrity policy at the start of the course and reference it when performing assessments.>
    • Educate students about academic integrity and provide resources to help their understanding of academic integrity and the penalties for not following College policy.
    • Consider requiring student engagement with the academic integrity policy as a restriction in D2L, before providing access to the assessment.
    • Encourage student-instructor and student-student interaction throughout the course. Research shows that students who feel more connected to their instructor are less likely to engage in academic misconduct.
    • In remote courses, synchronous video conferencing, using platforms such as WebEx or Teams, can promote and maintain student-instructor connections online, where feasible.
    • Direct students to research and writing supports so that students understand how to complete the assignment or exam, including proper referencing practices in the discipline.
    • Consider using Respondus Lockdown Browser and Monitor for online tests or exams in D2L.
    • Make use of plagiarism detection software such as, or use a Google search of unique phrases from a submitted paper.