1. Olubummo, Catherine DNP, MSN, RN, FNP

Article Content

Classroom assessment is an important tool to help teachers determine what students are learning.1 Assessment enables faculty to understand ways to promote learning and increases instructors' ability to help students become effective, self-directed learners.2 This empowers both students and teachers to improve the quality of classroom learning. Ways of improving learning include changing students' study habits, developing students' skills in viewing their thinking processes, and having students take responsibility for their own learning.3 Classroom assessment can be a guide in making these adjustments.

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Focus on objectives

Nurse educators are responsible for formulating program outcomes and designing curricula that reflect institutional philosophy and mission, contemporary healthcare trends, and community and societal needs to prepare graduates to function effectively in a complex, dynamic, multicultural healthcare environment. Educators need to demonstrate knowledge of curriculum development, including identifying program outcomes, developing competency statements, writing learning objectives, selecting appropriate learning activities, and determining evaluation strategies.


Faculty should base curriculum design and implementation decisions on sound educational principles, theory, and research. Revisions to the curriculum must be based on an assessment of program outcomes, learner needs, and societal and healthcare trends. Implementation of curricular revisions should reflect appropriate change theories and strategies, emphasizing the creation and maintenance of community and clinical partnerships that support educational goals and collaboration with external constituencies throughout the process. Educators must design and implement assessment models that promote continuous quality improvement for all aspects of the program.


Nurse educators use a variety of strategies to assess and evaluate student learning in the classroom, laboratory, and clinical settings, as well as in other domains of learning. To utilize assessment and evaluation strategies effectively, the nurse educator should:


* use current literature to develop evidence-based assessment and evaluation practices


* use various strategies to assess and evaluate learning in the cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains


* implement evidence-based assessment and evaluation strategies that are appropriate for the learner and learning goals


* use assessment and evaluation data to enhance the teaching-learning process


* provide timely, constructive, and thoughtful feedback to learners


* demonstrate skill in the design and use of tools for assessing clinical practice.



Consider this

Classroom assessment techniques include case studies and simulation, testing and writing assignments, and portfolio review.


Case studies and simulation

The following principles have been identified in adult learners:


* internally motivated and self-directed


* bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences


* goal and relevancy oriented


* practical


* like to be respected.4,54,5



These principles have an impact on the process of classroom assessment for adult learners. Learning from experience involves the adult connecting with the current experience.6 For this reason, I advocate for the use of case studies in the classroom. I usually give case studies to students following a lecture topic to assess their knowledge. They're also presented during pre- and postconferences in the clinical area to engage students in learning about patient care. Case studies that incorporate behavioral objectives enhance students' ability to think critically about the subject.


The objectives should be clearly defined and listed. The study should relate to the topic covered in the class and verify that students understand the subject. Another important factor to consider is adding focus questions to the end of the case study. The purpose of these questions is to clarify concepts with which students may still be grappling and engage them in thinking critically.


One study by midwifery educators in Australia shared how they prepared, implemented, and evaluated the use of simulations with midwifery students in a classroom setting.7 The goal was to provide more active learning opportunities as opposed to passive learning (teacher-centered) activities to assist in transferring knowledge and appropriate decision making to the clinical setting. They also developed case study simulations and embedded decision-making rules within the simulations to further aid students. The simulations were validated with the help of experienced midwives from clinical and academic settings.


The authors concluded that the use of simulation as a teaching strategy can be burdensome in the classroom setting, which may hinder faculty from using it as a teaching methodology. However, incorporating the use of simulation into classroom learning activities ultimately improves students' ability to make appropriate decisions and integrate knowledge learned, allowing them to function safely and effectively in actual clinical settings.


Testing and writing assignments

The most popular use of formative assessment in traditional classrooms is testing, which varies from individual to group testing. Exams may include multiple choice and essay questions. Testing sources vary and may include teacher developed tests; publisher developed tests; purchased tests; and complex assessments, such as oral demonstrations, writing projects, and performance tasks.8 Writing assignments are used as a form of assessment in both traditional and online classrooms; examples include critical reflective papers, journaling, comparison papers, dramatic dialogue, research papers, minute papers, and "muddiest point."1


An example of creative ways in which teachers adapt classroom assessment techniques to fit the diverse goals, needs, and circumstances of their students, the minute paper is a simple assessment in which the teacher writes the key points of his or her lecture on the chalkboard at the beginning of class and at the end of class asks students to write down the most important thing they've learned.1 Students often repeat the key points that were written on the chalkboard; however, the teacher asks what remains uppermost in their minds or what was the most meaningful insight they gained.


The muddiest point assessment targets what students didn't understand or what they found unclear or "muddy" in the lecture.1 The technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to a question. The focus of the muddiest point might be a lecture, discussion, or homework assignment. The muddiest point question should be posted at the end of a lecture, at the close of a discussion or presentation, or immediately after a reading assignment. This classroom assessment technique can be used frequently in classes where a large amount of new information is presented each session.1


Concept maps are another way to assess student's conceptualization of information. A concept map consists of diagrams with symbols and lines to signify relationships. What the students include in the map can demonstrate their view about what is and isn't important material.9


Scoring rubrics must be developed to evaluate student achievement. (See Interpretation of classroom assessment results.) The overall evaluation of a student's achievement is usually time-consuming, especially in the nursing department. The criteria for overall achievement aren't based on the classroom alone, but also include the clinical evaluation. For example, in my maternity class, students are required to write three successful care plans for each area of obstetrics to which they rotate (labor and delivery, postpartum, and newborn nursery). They're required to achieve a satisfactory grade in all three care plans.


Portfolio review

The portfolio assessment method evaluates a student's achievement using a collection of his or her work, performance assessments, observations, and other data. The various pieces collected to demonstrate performance on each standard are judged as a whole.10 Although a single grade can be assigned to the entire portfolio, some components can be evaluated using a scoring rubric, particularly performance tasks.


Portfolios have become part of a paradigm shift in the assessment of students in science education. Undergraduate science courses that have switched to portfolios have found them to be valuable in determining students' achievements. The use of portfolios for student assessment reflects a movement from teacher-centered pedagogy to one that allows for a diversity of students to be represented.11 Portfolios provide the teacher with a sample of the student's creative work, along with his or her explanation of that work in relation to the course content or goals. This technique allows teachers to assess students' skills and evaluate how well they can apply what they've learned and explain those applications.


Portfolios take a significant amount of time to assess, no matter how the educator structures the assignments. To make portfolios more useful and comparable, guidelines for their content need to be imposed and stated at the beginning of assignments.


Accommodating students with special needs

Legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act will have a significant impact on higher education in nursing.12 A survey was conducted to describe the extent to which ADN and BSN nursing programs in the United States admit and graduate students with special needs and those with chronic disorders, and identify the accommodations that enable successful provision of nursing education to these students.13 Responses received from 86 schools of nursing in 44 states indicated that most schools had contact with students with special needs, such as visual, hearing, or mobility impairments; learning disabilities; and chronic disorders. Learning disabilities were cited most frequently as having been present among the student population; few programs had experience with students with vision problems.


Nursing schools will need to make accommodations for students with special needs given recent legislation aimed at generating opportunities for individuals with disabilities to successfully enter the workforce.14 As a maternity nursing educator, occasionally I have students with special needs. For example, a student may require 2 hours to take a test that other students in the class would complete in 1 hour. One solution is to allow the student to begin taking the test 1 hour before the rest of the class to allow all of the students to finish at the same time. Another solution can be placing the student in a separate exam room with a dedicated instructor reading each question and allowing time for a response before moving on to other test items.


Evaluation strategies

Evaluation can be outcome or process related, including formative or summative individual evaluation and formative or summative program evaluation.


Formative individual evaluation provides feedback to an individual (usually a learner) to improve that individual's performance. This type of evaluation identifies areas for improvement and provides specific suggestions that serve as an educational tool. Summative individual evaluation measures whether an individual accomplished specific performance objectives. It may verify competency or lack of competency in a particular area.


Formative program evaluation provides information for improving a program's performance. It usually includes a survey of learners to obtain feedback and suggestions for improving a curriculum. Quantitative information, such as ratings of various aspects of the curriculum, can help identify areas that need revision. Qualitative information may include responses to open-ended questions about program strengths and weaknesses, as well as suggestions for change. Information can also be obtained from faculty or other observers, such as nurses and patients.


Summative program evaluation measures the success of a curriculum in achieving objectives for all targeted learners; its success in achieving its process objectives; and/or its success in engaging, motivating, and pleasing learners and faculty. In addition to quantitative data, summative program evaluation may include qualitative information about unintended barriers or unanticipated effects encountered in program implementation.


Formative evaluations generally require the least amount of rigor, whereas summative individual and program evaluations for external use (such as certification of competence) require the greatest rigor. When a high degree of methodological rigor is required, the measurement instrument must be appropriate in terms of content, reliability, validity, and practicality.


Content validity is a major concern when assessing achievement and is enhanced by following systematic procedures.15 Validity is lowered by inadequate assessment practices. Educators can ensure that an assessment provides valid results by identifying learning outcomes, preparing a sample of tasks to be used, and preparing an assessment procedure that fits the specifications.16 An example of a risk to validity is if the teacher consistently selects only easy or difficult assessments. The items would be unrepresentative and the resulting score would have low validity. A balanced assessment increases validity. We want to create assessments that are valid and generate accurate responses from learners.


Toward quality learning

Effective instruction requires that we expand our focus to a teaching-learning assessment process, with assessment being a basic part of the instructional program. Students are periodically informed about their learning progress and provision is made for giving them early feedback of assessments results.17 Remediation is provided for students who aren't achieving and specific learning weaknesses are revealed by the assessment results.11


Classroom assessment can be a vital component in our effort to improve education. We must focus on helping teachers change the way in which they use assessment results and improve the quality of their classroom assessments. When objective assessments become a primary part of the teaching process-central to the efforts to heighten student learning-the benefits for students and teachers will be enormous.18


Interpretation of classroom assessment results


* Norm-referenced interpretation is used to provide a relative ranking of students, facilitated by a wide spread of scores so that reliable discriminations can be made among students at various levels of achievement.19 Results are interpreted in terms of each student's relative standing among other students.3


* Grade equivalent scores indicate relative test performance in terms of the grade level at which the student's raw score matches the average score earned by the norm group.12 Scores are based on the mean and standard deviation of a set of scores and indicate the number of standard deviations above and below the mean.20


* Criterion-referenced interpretation focuses primarily on the student; more specifically, what the student knows, understands, and can do. Its strength is that it highlights individual assessments that are based on descriptions of performance across a range of levels, providing information about standards based on skills at different levels of attainment.21




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