(CRA) and norm-referenced (NRA) assessment
In criterion-referenced assessment, students'
performances are judged against pre-set criteria as
specified in the intended learning outcomes. It informs
teachers how well the intended
learning outcomes have been achieved by
students. For CRA to be beneficial to learning, explicit
criteria are essential which provide clear learning
goals to students.
Norm-referenced assessment compares students
with others. Students are assigned grades according
to their standing relative to other students. Grades
are commonly allocated in quotas that follow the normal
curve (grading on the curve). NRA does not however
say anything about the standard of students' performances,
only about which students are better than others.
For this reason, there are strong moves internationally
to move towards CRA.
and quantitative assessment
Qualitative assessment is based on the standards
model. It defines forms of knowledge to
be reached at the end of teaching, expressed as various
levels of acceptability in the objectives and grading
system. Teachers have to judge what grading criterion
best suits a given student's performance.
In a qualitative framework, learning is evaluated
according to the qualities displayed in a student's
performance. Learning builds upon previous knowledge
and its structure becomes more complex. Assessment
should therefore inform the present state of complexity,
and how that matches the intended
learning outcomes. The point of qualitative
assessment is not how much the final grade is, but
whether it tells us how well the performance matches
the objectives. Learning outcomes should therefore
be assessed holistically.
Quantitative assessment is based on the measurement
model, borrowed from individual differences
psychology. NRA requires a quantitative framework
for assessment so that students may be compared. It
is therefore necessary to reduce students' performances
to a unidimensional scale, most frequently percentages,
so that comparisons between students are possible.
Learning is evaluated according to how much correct
material has been learned and can be displayed, or
is rated on arbitrary scales.
It is commonly assumed that percentages are a universal
currency, equivalent across subject areas, and across
students, so that different students' performances
in different subjects can be directly compared. This
is completely unsustainable - there is no way
one can say for example that 58% in Physics 101 is
equivalent to 58% on Textile Design 103. Yet such
assumptions are made every day. Numbers provide a
misleading 'objectivity' that does not
in fact exist.
functioning knowledge and performance assessment
Declarative Knowledge refers to knowing about
things. It is public knowledge, subject to rules of
evidence that make it verifiable, replicable and logically
consistent. It is what is in libraries, textbooks
and research papers, and is what teachers "declare"
in lectures. Most common assessment techniques used
in universities are aiming at assessing declarative
Functioning knowledge is based on the idea that
true understanding changes the way that students actually
function in their discipline areas. The knowledge
allows them to integrate academic knowledge with the
skills required for that profession and the context
for using them to solve problems. This knowledge is
within the experience of the learners, who can now
put declarative knowledge to work by solving real
life problems in the professions for which they are
In professional education, while declarative knowledge
provides the conceptual foundation, students should
be using and applying that knowledge not just talking
or writing about it. It follows that assessment should
therefore be directed at assessing functioning knowledge
as close to its real-life context as possible. This
is referred to as 'authentic assessment'
or 'performance assessment'.
Formative and summative
Formative assessment provides informative
feedback about how learning is proceeding, providing
teachers and students with diagnostic information
and guidance for improvement. Feedback in the form
of comments given with summative assessment is too
late as the learning in the unit in question is over.
For suggestions on providing effective feedback, see
Summative assessment (grading)
Summative assessment is used to grade students
at the end of a unit, or to accredit at the end of
the programme. Its purpose is to see how well students
have learned what they were supposed to have learned.
See deriving grades.
Analytic and holistic assessment
Analytic assessment rates student performance
on independent aspects of the task, not on the task
as a whole. Usually, these aspects are weighted differentially
to derive the final grade. The major disadvantages
of analytic assessment are that it demands a quantitative
method of assessment and that when the task is more
than the sum of its parts, the assessment is deficient.
An analytic assessment could easily allow a student
to pass by averaging performances on particular aspects
of a complex task even if they failed one crucial
aspect. However, who would like to be operated upon
by a surgeon who had passed every aspect of performing
an operation very well, but who failed on safety procedures?
On a strict application of the analytical model, that
student would have to pass! Analytic assessment is
however essential when providing formative feedback.
Holistic assessment addresses the whole performance,
not just aspects of it. Holistic assessment recognises
the intrinsic meaning of the target performances and
is therefore a truer method of assessing such performances.
Most professional acts - problem solving, decision-making,
assessing case studies - are holistic by nature.
It makes little sense to assess students only on how
well they carry out parts of the act if they are not
assessed on how well they perform the act itself.
Assessing learning outcomes holistically needs a
conceptual framework that enables one to judge the
relationship between the parts and the whole. Such
a framework is unique to each discipline, but a generic
framework like the SOLO
taxonomy can be useful in deriving a subject-specific
and final/terminal assessment
Continuous / progressive assessment
Progressive or continuous assessment uses
results taken during the subject while learning is
proceeding, for grading purposes. Continuous assessment
should only be used when assessing partial outcomes
that need to be independently mastered early in the
semester, or when assessing basic declarative knowledge.
Continuous assessment also allows formative monitoring
of students' progress by revealing errors so
that it may be corrected.
Final / terminal assessment
Final or terminal assessment is carried out
at the end of a subject or an educational programme.
The student is required to sit an examination or submit
a major item of work assignment to obtain a final
grade. Traditionally, final assessment provides a
summative evaluation on student performance and determines
whether the student can proceed to the next level
of study or be accredited. Final assessment takes
into account all the content to be learned, but if
all assessments are at the end of a semester there
is a danger of stress and overload - for teachers