The Five Levels of Assessment in Higher Education
Assessments in higher education are crucial in measuring the educational effectiveness and quality of an institution’s offering. Assessments help different stakeholders – students, instructors, and administrators – and answer various questions about student development, the value of specific courses, and the credibility of an institution.
Ross Miller and Andrea Leskes, authors of Levels of Assessment: From the Student to the Institution, have identified five levels of complexity in assessments that should be achieved in higher education. Before we dive deeper to explore the importance of each level in ensuring educational quality, let’s briefly discuss the two assessment types recommended by Miller and Leskes:
- Formative: used to monitor student learning and plan for subsequent instruction. Data gathered from formative assessments provides insight into student strengths, weaknesses, and developmental progress.
- Summative: used to gather data about the attainment of knowledge and development of skills proficiencies. Allows stakeholders to measure how well students meet learning objectives and provides insight into the effectiveness of instructional tools and curriculum design.
Level 1 – Assessing individual student learning within courses
The first level refers to the assessment of individual student learning within courses. The goal is to measure learning as the student progresses through a specific course. The assessment tools utilized should provide data that highlights student strengths and weaknesses and guides development with actionable recommendations for improvement.
Miller and Leskes recommend instructors use formative and summative assessments that minimize the assignment of holistic grades (A to F) because they fail to provide the tailored and actionable feedback needed to nurture meaningful student development. These grades “represent averaged estimates of overall quality and communicate little to students about their strengths, weaknesses, or ways to improve.” – Miller & Leskes
The assessment of individual student learning within courses is often carried out through the implementation of pre-test/post-test. This allows stakeholders to assess a course’s impact by gauging student knowledge before and after the course.
Level 2 – Assessing individual student learning across courses
The second level is the assessment of individual student learning across courses. This level of assessment allows stakeholders to measure student development as they move through their specific major or program curriculum.
Assessing individual student learning across courses accomplishes the following goals:
- Provides students evidence of their development across courses
- Provides students with actionable feedback over time
- Provides stakeholders insight into how well students are performing against program learning objectives
- Informs remediation efforts needed to address development gaps and improve educational quality
In order to gather meaningful data, Miller and Leskes suggest that formative and summative assessments in this level address the following three questions:
- Has the student’s work improved and/or met the standards during the program or since admission to college?
- How well has the student achieved the disciplinary outcomes of the major program?
- How well has the student achieved the general learning outcomes of the institution across four years?
Level 3 – Assessing Courses
The third level of assessment asks programs and institutions to evaluate the effectiveness of courses in helping students meet learning objectives, prepare for future courses, and obtain expected levels of knowledge and skills proficiencies.
As with the previous two levels, both formative and summative assessments can be used in the assessment of courses. Examples of assessment tools that can be used include embedded course assignments (papers, exams, and projects), commercially developed tests, and course portfolios. – Miller & Leskes
The assessment of courses allows stakeholders to identify areas of the curriculum where remediation is needed to improve educational relevance. As Miller and Leskes express, instructors and committees are responsible for “understanding how the course fits into a coherent pathway of learning and using analysis of the evidence to improve teaching and course design.”
Level 4 – Assessing Programs
The fourth level of assessment involves the assessment of programs with the goal of measuring the alignment between curriculum designs and learning objectives. The data gathered at this level of assessment demonstrates how well a program prepares students to meet learning objectives and further highlights educational gaps within the curriculum.
According to Miller and Leskes, the assessment of programs mostly requires the implementation of summative assessments that address the following six questions:
- Do the program’s courses, individually and collectively, contribute to its outcomes as planned?
- How well does the program fulfill its purposes in the entire curriculum?
- How well do the program’s sub-categories contribute to the overall purposes?
- Does the program’s design resonate with its expected outcomes?
- Are the courses organized in a coherent manner to allow for cumulative learning?
- Does the program advance institution-wide goals as planned?
The effective assessment of programs requires the collection of data at the entry, midpoint, and end of the program. “End point data is particularly valuable as a summative indicator of how well the program, taken as a whole, is achieving its goals.” – Miller & Leskes
Level 5 – Assessing the Institution
The fifth level of assessment in higher education involves measuring the effectiveness of the institution in educating students and preparing them for success post-graduation. The results gathered from institution-level assessments are used to improve curriculum designs and meet both internal and external requirements for educational quality.
Multiple stakeholders, including administrators and faculty, are responsible for this level of assessment. Their collaboration is crucial for the institution-wide establishment of systematic processes that ensure the continuous improvement of educational quality. These processes also allow stakeholders to close the loop between assessment data, analysis, and consequent remediation efforts.
Assessment tools that provide valid data to measure how well an institution prepares students for educational- and career-relevant learning objectives include previous program-level assessments, individual or cohort-level assessments taken at the entry- and graduation-level, and course-level assessments from required general education and core courses. – Miller & Leskes
Simplify Your Assessment Needs with Capsim Modular Exam™
Capsim Modular Exam™ is a short, flexible, and graded test that provides meaningful data, simplifies assessment processes, and standardizes reporting for accreditation. Modular Exam allows you to achieve the five levels of assessment in higher education by:
- Measuring Against Course Learning Objectives: add or remove questions to tailor and align the exam to course, program, and institution learning objectives.
- Assessing Student Learning: use Modular Exam as a pre-test/post-test to assess learning, track the overall growth of students, and determine the short-term and/or long-term impact of curricula.
- Providing Tailored Developmental Feedback: identify individual strengths and weaknesses and move students from feedback to action with an Individual Development Plan (IDP).
- Simplifying and Standardizing Accreditation Reporting: administer the exam across the entire business curriculum to create a standardized assessment process for instructors while compiling uniformed learning outcomes assessment data.
If you would like to learn more about Capsim Modular Exam, including how this assessment tool can help you accomplish the five levels of assessment in higher education, fill out the form below or click here.