I think effective assessment has a lot to do with reflection. Writing instructors often ask students to reflect on work they’ve completed. This helps spark insight about existing strengths and which areas could benefit from further development. It also allows them to consider the amount of time and effort they put into the assignment and how that shaped the outcome. I think assessment can and should be the same way for instructors. Assessments, for me anyway, are tools that are fluid and often change between semesters. I think many of us are always trying to perfect each assignment, so it tests the competencies we want students to demonstrate and also engages them enough to facilitate effective writing. If my students fare poorly on some aspect of an assessment, whether that’s an in class activity, or something more elaborate like a 750 word paper, I typically ask myself what I might have done differently. Should I have covered the concepts invoked in that problematic section more thoroughly in class? Are the assignment directions for that part of the paper confusing? Or is this just a particularly challenging concept that students need multiple exposures to across several assignments before they really perfect it? Sometimes I might even make changes to the assessment itself. Is the thing I’m looking for mission critical in terms of the competencies students need to demonstrate or is it something I do just because I’ve been doing it that way a long time?
I try to ensure my approach to student learning is evidence based. Certainly that means I like to try to keep up with current literature on teaching and learning, but that also means looking at the evidence from the students themselves. My experience with GCC students has been that, on the whole, they are quite hardworking and, if you give them a sufficiently stimulating assignment prompt, they’ll put in substantial work despite the many outside pressures they and most other community college students face (work, family obligations, etc.) — I once had a student that rollerbladed to my 10 am class because his car broke down, but that’s another story. Given that experience, I tend to look for alterations and improvements I can make if a substantial portion of students are struggling with a certain aspect of an assessment. Please don’t read this as “dumbing things down” or “making the assignments easier.” That would be an awfully reductive interpretation of what I’m trying to get at here. The competencies are the competencies. The rubric is the rubric. Effective teaching is about finding ways for as many students as possible to find success in demonstrating those competencies so they can find success here at GCC and beyond.