Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement at the conclusion of instruction—typically at the end of a project, unit, course, semester, or program.
While exams are a frequently-employed summative assessment strategy, many alternatives provide the opportunity for more authentic assessment, better preparing students for the real-world challenges they will face when they complete their degrees. Indiana University Bloomington’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning lists some guiding questions to assist faculty to determine exactly the types of skills and knowledge that exam alternatives should address (Indiana University, 2020):
- Do you want to assess your students’ acquisition of specific content knowledge, or their ability to apply that knowledge to new situations (or both)?
- Do you want to assess a product that students produce, or the process they went through to produce it, or both?
- Do you want to assess any of the following?
- writing ability
- speaking skills
- use of information technology
- Is a visual component to the assessment necessary or desirable?
- Is the ability for students to work in a group an important component of the assessment?
- Is it important that the assessment be time-constrained?
The Center has compiled a list of alternatives to traditional exams and papers organized by purpose and performance level: creativity, comprehension, analysis or evaluation, short writing activities, and integration of many skills and types of knowledge.
In addition to those described in the resources for this section, below are a few common alternatives to exams:
The ePortfolio collects evidence of student learning in electronic form. Because students collect their work over a period of time, ePortfolios are useful in promoting student reflection on their learning over the course of their degree programs and tracking progress toward their academic goals. ePortfolios can be used for both formative and summative assessment.
Internships, capstone projects, service learning opportunities, and other strategies offer learning experiences that combine the benefits of case studies and projects.
- Case Studies: Long used in business, law, medicine, and the social sciences, cases can be used in any discipline to prepare students to apply what they have learned to real world problems.
- Projects: In project-based learning (PBL), students design, develop, and construct hands-on solutions to a problem. PBL is that it aims to build students’ creative capacity to work through difficult or ill-structured problems, commonly in small teams, and includes these steps:
- Identifying a problem
- Agreeing on or devising a solution and potential solution path to the problem (i.e., how to achieve the solution)
- Designing and developing a prototype of the solution
- Refining the solution based on feedback from experts, instructors, and/or peers (Boston University Center for Teaching & Learning, n.d.)
- Student presentations: Student presentations not only assess your students' understanding but also provide the opportunity for students to practice public speaking and presentation skills. Using student presentations as part of a group project requires students to collaborate with peers in synthesizing information and constructing new knowledge. In the remote teaching environment, students can use either Zoom or Kaltura to create their presentations. Zoom works for a group setting if everyone needs to be part of the presentation, and Kaltura is an ideal tool for single-student presentations.
Information Literacy, Research, and Writing Support Available for Students
These resources support students with the types of assignments you might use as exam alternatives.
|Information Literacy Information Literacy at UNH||A guide to help faculty incorporate the skills of information literacy and critical thinking into their courses, with a focus on information resources and library faculty expertise.|
|Research Support||Research Guides in a wide range of subject areas. Commonly used citation styles.|
|Connors Writing Center Writing Intensive Course Guidelines Online Writing Lab||The Connors Writing Center offers one-on-one writing conferences to current UNH undergraduate and graduate students, an Online Writing Lab, and information and guidelines on Writing Intensive (WI) courses for both faculty and students.|
Competency Based Assessment
Competency-based education focuses on what students know and can do rather than how they learned it or how long it took to learn it (Klein-Collins, 2014). Students advance through their academic programs by successfully demonstrating their skills and competencies through specially designed assessments.
At the program level,
[s]ome CBE programs have been designed to allow students to learn and progress at their own pace; some are leveraging technology in new ways to facilitate student-directed learning as well as cost savings for the student and ostensibly also for the institution. In addition to these benefits, many institutions are choosing to offer CBE programs as a way to improve the quality of higher education by focusing on evidence of student learning outcomes rather than seat time (Klein-Collins, 2016).
Value Added Assessment
Following the attention accountability received in K-12 education, accountability in higher education has become a key area of interest. Value-added assessment measures the performance difference between first-year and fourth-year students on a standardized test after controlling for student admission scores. The value-added measure indicates how much students have learned in college in writing and critical thinking after taking into consideration their prior academic achievement. Institutions are then ranked based on their value-added scores (Liu, 2011). Value Added Assessment
The Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment at Skidmore College (2020) describes advantages and disadvantages of pre- and post- testing as a method of value added assessment:
- Assessing the students when they first enter a program can establish a firm benchmark against which to measure growth or value-added.
- Pre-testing is especially helpful for measuring student knowledge, or cognitive learning, and skills, though somewhat less so for measuring values.
- Pre- and post-testing may work best with traditional four-year undergraduates rather than the more common situation now where students enter, stop-out, transfer, return, and take six years or more to graduate.
- Pre- and post-testing can be easily scored.
- Pre- and post-testing can be relatively easily analyzed using statistical procedures.
- Pre- and post-testing offers little useful information if the students know little or nothing about the subject of the program when they first enter it.
- Deciding how to develop meaningfully comparable pre- and post-assessments is difficult, since the pre-test may have to be so basic that any additional learning could be seen as "growth" or value-added.
- If the assessment is not based upon a highly structured curriculum where the objectives are taught toward and adhered to across all courses in a systematic fashion, it may be difficult to demonstrate the causes of the value-added or to correlate the results of the post-test with the specific courses within the curriculum.
Other approaches are possible, including essays or research papers, embedded assessment, and standardized tests (The Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment at Skidmore College, 2020).
Boston University Center for Teaching & Learning. (n.d.) Project-Based Learning: Teaching Guide. Retrieved from https://www.bu.edu/ctl/guides/project-based-learning/
Indiana University Bloomington Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2020). Alternatives to Traditional Exams and Papers. Retrieved from https://citl.indiana.edu/teaching-resources/assessing-student-learning/alternatives-traditional-exams-papers/index.html
Klein-Collins, R. (2014). Sharpening Our Focus on Learning: The Rise of Competency-Based Approaches to Degree Completion (Occasional Paper #20). National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. Retrieved from https://learningoutcomesassessment.org/documents/OccasionalPaper20.pdf
Klein-Collins, R. (2016). Faculty and Administrator Views on Competency Based Education. The Council for Adult & Experiential Learning. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED597744.pdf
Liu, O. (2011). Value-added assessment in higher education: A comparison of two methods. Higher Education, 61(4), 445–461. https://unh.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01USNH_UNH/1o8seis/cdi_gale_infotracacademiconefile_A345072375
Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment at Skidmore College. (2020). Value-Added Assessment (Pre- and Post-testing). Retrieved from https://www.skidmore.edu/assessment/archived/pre-or-post-assessment.php