A Look at Student-Centered Assessments

Student-centered assessments (SCAs) can be a valuable tool for educational institutions and classrooms, enabling students to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, while moving toward goals mutually agreed upon by teacher and learner. Setting objective standards for learning performance — beyond grades — is an effective way to empower students to take ownership in their own academic growth.

Features Define Student-Centered Assessments

Student-centered assessments help ensure that students are actively engaged in their learning trajectories by encouraging them to critique their own work and identify areas of progress and areas needing improvement. Putting this ownership on students promotes sustainable, self-regulated learning. Students who are highly involved in their development and accountable to agreed-upon objectives tend to learn more and perform better in school than students who do not (Zimmerman & Schunk 2011).

SCAs allow teachers to customize goals to different groups of students, factoring in what types of objectives will work best to foster motivation, meaningful learning, and retention. The process of coming to a mutual agreement and putting specific learning outcomes in course syllabi and assignments also helps to ensure that goals are consistent across the class.

3 Steps for Creating Effective Student-Centered Assessments:

  1. Set clear goals: Teachers and students mutually agree to performance goals and how they will be defined and measured for each task. Action verbs like “define,” “create,” “argue,” or “solve” are often incorporated. Goals go beyond objective right and wrong answers. Students should be able to explain a process or apply what they have learned. In algebra, for example, students may be required to not only provide the right answers but to show and explain their process. Rubrics can be an effective assessment mechanism in support of setting concrete, comprehensive goals while helping students understand the standards and expectations.
  2. Monitor and measure progress: Students monitor their progress and performance on assignments by objectively comparing their work to expectations and asking themselves tough questions: Am I able to argue for x, or solve for y? Even if I have the right answer, did I reach it using a reliable process? In this stage, students make notes about what is necessary for their own continued improvement.
  3. Revise: At this point, the student and instructor meet to discuss paths toward completing the agreed-upon objectives, taking into account student progress and what learning methods have been most and least effective. This step integrates assessing performance, evaluating learning methods, and gauging motivation.

The Differences Between Student-Centered and Traditional Assessments

Student-centered assessments allow the learner to practice skills and review concepts as they move through the course or program. For educators, institutions, and states, SCAs provide feedback summative assessments sometimes miss. Used over time, SCAs provide a clearer picture of knowledge gaps, which teaching methods are most effective, and how to optimize teaching approaches for different types of learners. This is why student-centered assessments often help to improve attainment gaps in lower-performing schools. When used in combination with a digital assessment platform, these assessments can help educators monitor performance through categorical analysis, while also providing the learner with helpful understanding of their own progress.

Formal tests, final exams, final projects, and term papers are examples of summative assessments. SCAs differ from these traditional assessments, which summarize the development of learners at a specific time, by considering progress at various intervals. Summative assessments are usually compared to an established standard and graded against that standard; whereas student-centered assessments measure capabilities against a comprehensive set of established goals. SCAs also tend to capture the student’s thought process, such as how a problem is approached, rather than just the answer. That differentiator makes student-centered assessments effective for developing reliable methods of learning and promote higher-order thinking.

3 Types of Student-Centered Assessments

Peer assessments – Peer assessment methods allow students to give feedback to one another, supported by set expectations and a standard of constructive criticism. This type of assessment harnesses the student’s desire to meet the expectations of their peers and allows them to hold one another accountable for shared success. In this way, peer assessments improve engagement and retention.

According to Dr. Alexander W. Astin’s 1996 study, “Involvement in Learning Revisited: Lessons We Have Learned”, factors that influence college students’ learning: “The strongest single source of influence on cognitive and affective development is the student’s peer group … it has the capacity to involve the student more intensely…” 

Process portfolios – Portfolios collected throughout a semester or program demonstrate progress in learning, from novice to master. A single assignment or test only shows a snapshot of learning. The process of continuous work, progress, and learning also increases student engagement and self-discipline. This works through reflection on how successfully completed assignments contribute to attaining performance goals.

Exhibitions – This method raises the anticipation for a culminating academic moment. The exhibition itself, such as a presentation, is usually a summative assessment, but the work leading up to it includes ongoing assessment, feedback, and revision. Having a climactic goal enhances the motivational effects of SCAs.

Are Certain Subjects More Suitable to Student-Centered Assessment?

The nature of student-centered assessments helps to make assignment and test instructions clearer, since students are not only told what they are expected to deliver, but how and why it matters. For this reason, SCAs are equally adaptable to all subjects and all types of learning environments, no matter if a course’s content is more focused on subjective or objective learning.

From writing poetry to solving equations, as long as assessments test the knowledge and skills educators want students to master and all stakeholders are focused on learning and growth, there is value in implementing student-centered assessment.

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Students at the Center Hub: Student-Centered Assessment Resources

University of Waterloo: Learner-Centred Assessment

University of Waterloo: Rubrics: Useful Assessment Tools

Moe.edu.kw: Student-Centered Classroom Assessment

Astin. “‘Involvement in Learning’ Revisited: Lessons We Have Learned.” Journal of College Student Development., vol. 40, no. 5, American College Personnel Association, pp. 587–34, doi:info:doi/.

Published: October 5, 2021

Updated: January 4, 2022

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