Assessment refers to the variety of ways educators measure student learning. Its purpose is manifold, but it can generally be categorized as either formative (i.e., assessment for learning) or summative (i.e., assessment of learning). Read the following information on:


York Support

The Teaching Commons offers a series of workshops that look at effective strategies for assessment and feedback. Through these sessions you will be introduced to a range of topics including the purposes of assessment, how to align assessment and learning activities with learning outcomes, how to develop a rubric, and how assessment can encourage engagement and how to minimize academic integrity breaches.


Resources Internal to York

“For a teacher who wants his or her students to learn big ideas and gain long-term understanding, assessment means being keenly aware of what students know and understand, having sufficient evidence of this understanding, and offering a grade that accurately reflects this…We need to communicate to students that their goal should be knowing more when they walk out of a class than when they walked in it” (From Craig Huhn’s ‘How Many Points is This Worth?’ in Educational Leadership, 200, p. 825).

Undergraduate Definitions of Grading Descriptions

The following is an overview of York’s grades and grading schemes for undergraduate education:

General Strategies

The following has been adapted from Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis (1993).

Grade on the basis of students’ mastery of knowledge and skills. Restrict your evaluations to academic performance. Do your best to discount other considerations, such as classroom behavior, effort, classroom participation, attendance, punctuality, attitude, personality traits, or student interest in the course material, as the basis of course grades.

Try not to place excess emphasis on grades. Explain to your class the meaning of and basis for grades and the procedures you use in grading.

Keep students informed of their progress throughout the term. For each paper, assignment, midterm, or project that you grade, try and give students a sense of what their grade means. Try to give a point total rather than a letter grade. Letter grades tend to have emotional associations that point totals lack. Do show the range and distribution of point scores, and indicate what level of performance is satisfactory (see a definition of York’s grading descriptions above). Such information can motivate students to improve if they are doing poorly or to maintain their performance if they are doing well. Provide as much detailed feedback as possible.

Make sure that you know exactly what your course director expects from you and what criteria you will be using to assess the work. If you have questions make sure they are clarified before you start grading.

Your course director is responsible in the first instance for the course grades. To ensure that your grading standards are in line with your course director’s, he/she may ask you to submit several of your marked papers to him/her before you finish the whole set.

Read five or six papers before you start grading to get an idea of the range.

When you get tired, stop grading and when you start again, read over the last couple of papers to make sure you were fair.

Return graded material as quickly as possible so students can derive the greatest benefit from the feedback.

Set policies on late work.

Avoid changing grading procedures during the term. Doing so will result in students questioning your fairness, consistency, objectivity, and organizational skills.

Provide opportunities for students to show you what they know. By allowing students many opportunities to show you what they know, you will build a more comprehensive picture of their skills.

8 Essential Characteristics of Effective Assessment

  1. Assess what is actually taught
  2. Provide information for improving student learning
  3. Focus on the process as well as on the products of instruction
  4. Actively involve both teacher and student
  5. Use multiple and varied measures
  6. Carry out at various points during the term
  7. Provide useful, timely feedback to those being assessed and those most affected – the students and teachers
  8. Assessment is an intrinsically educational activity – one that reinforces and furthers the teaching and learning goals it focuses on

Thomas A. Angelo, workshop handout on Classroom Research and Classroom Assessment (University of California, Berkeley, August 1991).  

Providing Feedback on Student Work

  • Write legible comments. You may prefer to use a pencil so that you can erase a comment if you change your mind. If you use a pen and change your mind, “white out”, rather than cross out, the comment you wish to delete.
  • Be polite. Avoid sarcastic comments at all times.
  • If time permits, it is a good idea to re-read borderline exams or essays to confirm your sense that those works deserve the mark you gave them, say a B rather than a B+.
  • Avoid making uniformly negative comments. Offer a word of praise or encouragement where you can.
  • In general, it is a good idea to provide some concluding remarks where you indicate areas of strengths as well as points of weakness in student essays, and if appropriate, offer some suggested steps for improvement.
  • If a student has serious writing problems, refer him/her to your Faculty writing centre.
  • If you suspect plagiarism, report the matter to your course director, who will initiate the policies and procedures outlined in the Senate Policy on Academic Honesty.
  • A student may come to you requesting a higher grade. You should ask him/her to make a convincing case why the grade should be raised. If no such case is forthcoming, don’t raise the grade. If it is, don’t be afraid to raise it. If you are uncertain about what to do, talk to your course director.

Invigilating Examinations

  • In sloping lecture halls, stand at the front of the room and look towards the students so that you can see whether the eyes of the students are looking in an appropriate direction.
  • Have students remove hats that might hide wandering eyes.
  • Have two or more versions of the exam distributed in alternate seats, so that students cannot easily see other copies of their version of the exam. For example, create different versions of a multiple choice exam by rearranging the order of the questions, or of the answers for each question. In the interests of prevention it would be appropriate to tell students in advance that you are using several versions of the exam.
  • If there is reason to suspect during an exam that a student is copying from another student, but you are not completely sure, consult with another invigilator and, if appropriate, ask the student to move to another seat where copying is not possible. This should be done in a way that does not cause disruption to other students.
  • Take steps to prevent the use of unauthorized sources. Have students leave personal belongings and materials at the front of the room to minimize the possibility that notes can be smuggled in, either at the start of the exam or in connection with a trip to the washroom, or that messages can be obtained via cell phones or other communication devices. Mark the official exam booklets in some way so that extra exam booklets containing information cannot be brought into the room undetected.
  • Check student identification and signatures carefully to prevent impersonation by another student. When a student leaves the room temporarily to use washroom facilities, make sure it is the same student when he/she returns.
  • It is important for invigilators to take their invigilation responsibilities seriously, to watch for activities that suggest cheating, and to inform the Chief Invigilator immediately if you notice any student receiving illegal assistance during the exam, either from another student or from unauthorized material. Make sure students know in advance that cheating of any type is not acceptable, that TAs are vigilant, and that confirmed cases of cheating will result in serious penalties.


Resources External to York

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario brings evidenced-based research to continuously improve higher education in Ontario.

The University of Guelph’s website provides resources around outcome-based course design, including how to prepare learning outcomes, planning and assessment, and curriculum alignment. Look at the right handside of the page to find these resources.

The Assessment Commons proposes an assessment handbook.

For examples of rubrics a large range of assignments, visit DePaul’s Teaching Commons Website and the American Association of Colleges and Universities.