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What Is the Purpose of an Evaluation?

Classroom evaluations typically consist of tests, examinations, and quizzes. Are evaluations necessary and how do they contribute to the process of learning? The traditional structure for formalized learning includes a series of lectures, written assignments, and course evaluations. Many institutions product-evaluation specify dates when examinations must be given. Tests and quizzes may be pre-planned or utilized randomly throughout the class. The underlying premise is that evaluations will measure students’ learning and their overall progress towards meeting the required learning objectives. It will also provide support for the grades earned at the end of the course. The difference between an evaluation and a written assignment has to do with the level of measurement and analysis. An evaluation measures the level of learning and knowledge acquired at a specific point in the class; whereas, a written assignment demonstrates the students’ ability to work with information and produce a work product.

An evaluation serves several distinct purposes. First, an instructor has an opportunity to provide the student with specific feedback. Even if the exam consists primarily of multiple choice or true false questions the instructor is still establishing their expectations of what students should have learned at this point in the course. If the test or exam included short answer or essay questions the instructor’s feedback can be expanded to address content development and the mechanics of the response. Next, an evaluation is a form of feedback that the student gives their instructor. Through the students’ work product they are able to demonstrate the knowledge they have gained and instructors can then tailor or adapt their facilitation strategies as needed if there are trends noted that require further attention or instruction. Finally, an evaluation allows an instructor to address specific developmental needs. During the process of reviewing the students’ work they can make recommendations and offer resources. The overall effectiveness of an evaluation depends upon the developmental process used to create the test or examination.

Developing an evaluation is most effective when it is designed with the students’ skill set in mind, which includes their program level, cognitive ability, and academic experience. As an example, test banks provided by publisher tend to be developed for students with advanced academic skills and abilities. If you are teaching an undergraduate business class those students are going to be at a very different academic skill level with different cognitive abilities than students who are at the graduate level. This does not mean you should dumb down the test but it does mean that the evaluation should be appropriate for the students’ background and ability.

By the time your students take the test or examination you should already have a very good understanding of how the students are doing because you have watched their performance in class and reviewed their written assignments. This is similar to an employee evaluation given within an organizational environment. The employee and their manager should not be surprised by the results if ongoing developmental efforts are being taken to address performance issues. The same is true for an instructor and students working in an academic environment. Performance issues need to be addressed along the way and an evaluation is a summary of the knowledge students have gained at this particular point in the course. Classroom evaluations, regardless of their format, provide an opportunity to summarize important concepts and course knowledge, while demonstrating the students’ current academic skill set. It is an instructional strategy that can enhance the process of learning when it is focused on students’ developmental needs.

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson is an inspirational author, writer, and teacher.

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