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Having pre-determined standards of performance are the most defensible approach to assessment. Without a clear understanding of the subject goals students have a greater chance of becoming confused and wasting time trying to discover what it is we want them to learn.
As you plan your teaching you will make choices on what you think is the best way to learn a particular skill, knowledge or attribute. If you go a small step further and make these goals clear to your students, then the written objectives used in curriculum design will serve a useful purpose in assisting your students' learning. The most direct way students experience what is needed to achieve the subject's learning objectives is through the assessment criteria.
Once the goals of assessment have been determined it is necessary to describe the criteria that will be used to judge whether the desired level of performance has been achieved. Learning objectives consist of three parts:
- the student action;
- the content;
- the standard required to meet the objective.
Assessment criteria relates to the third part of the objective, the standard of performance.
Criteria are developed by analysing the learning outcomes and identifying the specific characteristics that contribute to the overall assignment. These are the standards by which learning is judged.
Capturing the multiple dimensions of student performance is at the heart of criterion development. A range of diverse performance measures can be formulated for any given performance. The main question is, how many criterion are needed that contain neither irrelevant or miss important areas? The criteria then need to be linked with marks in some form of combined composite score.
Constructively aligned assessment criteria begin with a noun that complements the verb in the assessment tasks objective. For example, if the objective is for students to "explain how concepts in the subject interrelate" one of the criteria might be "Clarity of explanation". That is, the criterion describes the quality in the assessment task that will be judged during marking. Other commonly used quality words used in criteria include: