How to Improve Teaching Strategies Through Student Assessment

What is the function of assessment in the classroom? Many instructors deliver summative assessments — like midterms or final exams — to determine students’ grasp of course material and decide if students are ready to advance to higher-level courses. Traditionally, this assessment method moves in a single direction — from the student, who demonstrates their mastery of a certain subject, to the educator, who factors the test score into a final course grade.

But the assessment process doesn’t have to end with a test score. In fact, making assessment a recursive activity can reveal valuable opportunities to improve teaching methods, which in turn can improve student outcomes. While summative assessments like midterms and finals play an important role in gauging course mastery, formative assessments — including quizzes and in-class polls — can help instructors determine if their teaching is effective and make necessary and timely adjustments during the semester.

Formative assessment is also useful for reinforcing key concepts, so that testing is not solely a measure of student knowledge, but also a rich teaching opportunity. Below we discuss strategies to cultivate teachable moments in testing, fine-tune teaching methods to support knowledge retention, and provide targeted feedback to improve student outcomes, all with the help of a data-driven solution for assessment.

Assessment of Learning vs. Assessment for Learning

In “Assessment for Learning: Classroom Assessment to Improve Student Achievement and Well-Being,” Judith Arter notes the differences between “assessment of learning” and “assessment for learning,” the former aligned with summative assessment and the latter, formative. While Arter acknowledges a place for assessment of learning through summative exams. She posits that this method alone “is insufficient to help us reach our goals for student learning.”

Assessment for learning, on the other hand, involves a continual process of formative assessment — adjusting teaching methods in response to test results and involving students in the process of self-assessment and self-improvement. But for this process to be successful, Arter writes, instructors must develop specific “learning targets” and help students engage with these objectives.

One way to implement an assessment for learning approach is to write every test and quiz with a focus on learning targets. By focusing and linking individual questions to categories — including subject areas or learning outcomes — instructors can generate performance data that enables them to identify the needs of individual students, observe any course-wide trends, and target any course topics that may require revisiting.

Keep Track of Learning Targets with Digital Assessment

Establishing a thorough but focused set of course objectives is a good starting point to deliver effective instruction and assessment. Test creation is an important next step of an assessment for learning approach since this is when many instructors first connect test questions to their learning targets. With this framework in place, tests and quizzes can bring meaningful performance insights that show student progress for each learning target.

In a recent EdSurge article, an engineering instructor at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering describes his approach to formative assessment, which involves weekly, 10-question quizzes to track student progress by course topics. Over time, the sheer number of paper-based quizzes made observing trends difficult. To gather this performance data effectively, the instructor set out to develop a machine learning tool with his colleagues that would provide “insight into where the class was successfully learning the material and where [the instructor] needs to reinforce certain topics.”

For educators in search of a simpler way to aggregate performance data, a digital testing platform can help. A solution with built-in item-tagging and category-reporting capabilities enables educators to upload and/or create assessment items, tag these items to learning targets, and analyze student performance. Category-driven assessment makes it possible for educators to tailor instruction to the needs of their students and evaluate the efficacy of their own teaching practices.

Take a look at three ways instructors can leverage digital assessment data to improve their teaching strategies:

Providing Differentiated Feedback

As noted in an article published by Graduate Programs for Educators, “If goals are set in collaboration with students and teachers can identify abilities of their students, differentiation is an efficient use of test results to improve learning.” Educators can use assessment software with category-based reporting to provide timely, individualized feedback that helps students grow.

Reviewing assessment results with every student can be time-consuming, but digital assessment tools can deliver automated reports to students, summarizing their performance by each learning target. When students know their strengths as well as opportunities for growth, they know exactly where to focus their study efforts. Category reports give students a way to engage in the process of self-assessment, and educators make this possible simply by tagging questions to learning targets during exam creation.

Revisiting Topics as a Class

Even the most well-vetted teaching methods are not guaranteed to support student learning in every course, and educators may find that assessment data reveals course-wide performance trends that require intervention during the semester. When this is the case, the Association for Supervision and Curricular Development (ASCD) advises that instructors “follow their assessments with instructional alternatives that present those concepts in new ways and engage students in different and more appropriate learning experiences.”

A digital assessment tool can generate course performance reports that show the average test score for an assessment, performance trends in categories across multiple assessments, and how a course or multiple courses are performing by category. Based on these insights, an instructor could see that a majority of students in a course requires corrective instruction for specific learning targets and revisit topics accordingly.

Testing Instructional Adjustments

Presenting concepts in new ways based on assessment data is an essential step of student evaluation. But how can an instructor be sure that new teaching methods are working for their course? ASCD writes, “[I]f teachers follow assessments with helpful corrective instruction, then students should have a second chance to demonstrate their new level of competence and understanding.”

This is yet another way digital testing can support a recursive approach to formative assessment; instructors can create and administer new quizzes, or offer an alternate means of assessment such as a presentation, on the same course material and compare student performance on the assessment events by learning target. With this valuable performance data, educators can make meaningful adjustments to their teaching methods while a course is ongoing to support student success. Without an assessment for learning approach, these adjustments could otherwise take years of instruction to correct.

Deliver Assessment for Learning with ExamSoft

By giving educators the tools they need to create, administer, and analyze exams around course objectives, ExamSoft’s digital assessment solution helps support every step of the assessment for learning approach.

Contact an Academic Business Consultant to learn how you can improve your teaching strategies with ExamSoft’s data-rich assessment platform.


Education Resources Information Center: Assessment for Learning: Classroom Assessment to Improve Student Achievement and Well-Being

EdSurge: How Professors Can Use AI to Improve Their Teaching in Real Time

Graduate Programs for Educators: What Questions Should Student Assessment Results Answer?

ASCD: How Classroom Assessments Improve Learning

Published: October 19, 2021

Updated: January 4, 2022

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