Assessments and Grading

Assessments are more than just a method to assign a grade; they are a powerful tool for measuring and guiding the learning process. A good assessment provides feedback on which concepts or tasks the students are struggling with, so the instructor can devise ways to help them better understand and apply the material. There are many different types of assessments that educators can use to evaluate whether or not a student has learned the required knowledge and skills for the course. Three of these are diagnostic, formative, and summative.

  • Do you want to assess where your students are on a topic so you can address their misconceptions and strengthen and build upon their knowledge? Use a diagnotic assessment.
  • Would you like to improve or inform your teaching methods? Use a formative assessment.
  • Are you wondering, "How proficient are my students after the time we've spent together?" Use a summative assessment.


A diagnostic assessment, such as a placement test or pretest, is administered before registration or at the start of a course to determine each students' level of proficiency, comprehension and baseline knowledge. Diagnostic assessments are not graded but are used to set students up for success by getting them in the correct level course or to help a faculty member determine students' prior knowledge and subtopic areas of strength and weakness. Informally, these assessments can be accomplished through teacher-led discussions prior to new learning using guiding questions, examples, and scenarios.


Formative assessments, whether formal or informal, are used to determine if students are attaining the course objectives or if teaching styles need to be modified as the course progresses to help students achieve the core outcomes. Formative assessments can come in many forms such as observation, group discussions, assignments, projects and quizzes. They typically allow for immediate feedback which aids the faculty member and the student in tracking the status of their learning experience. They occur regularly throughout your course design and inform your instructional modifications while building student knowledge.


Summative assessments are used to measure the level of proficiency at the end of an instructional unit in order to compare what students have learned to a standard or benchmark. Since they are a cumulative assessment, summative assessments typically have a high point value. Unit exams, midterms, final exams and final projects are often forms of summative assessment.

USU Tremonton classroom

Assessment and Grading Tools

Course Assignment Framework

Below you will find a table of different assignment types that can help you plan and build assessment activities. Each of these assignment types can be combined to complete different objectives.

  Assignment Rationale Advantages Possible Combinations Canvas Tool
1 Assigned or Selected Readings Students need to access and process textual information to develop background knowledge. Include texts, Internet and library resources; expect reading comprehension; help keep students connected to course content

1+5 Reading/Technology-Activity (Summarize readings as a chart or graphic organizer)

1+6 Reading/Current Events (Relate readings to news item)


2 Written Responses* Students are expected to think and communicate their understanding in writing at the college level. Evidence independent writing proficiencies; can be guided by a rubric; afford more personalized connections

2+1 Written Response/Reading (Brief written response to assigned reading)

2+4 Written Response/Group Project (Group presents summary of a section or chapter)


3 Online Collaborations Students can stay connected to the instructor, other students, and the posted resources via online discussions and collaborative tasks Build interaction among students; promote accountability and ongoing input to instructor and students

3+1 Online Collaboration/Reading (Use online discussion to respond to assigned reading)

3+7 Online Collaboration/Tests (Use online discussions to post and revise potential test items)

Assignments, Group Discussions

4 Group Projects or Presentations Some students prefer to work in pairs or groups and can get to know other students in other locations. Teamwork is a highly sought skill in most professions. Promote cooperative learning and presentation skills; reduce the number of assignments to grade

4+5 Group Project/Technology Activity (Explore various websites to analyze an issue)

4+6 Group Project/Current Event (Use Internet resources to develop PowerPoint or Prezi on current event)


5 Technology-based Activities Students should advance their use of technology via course and career-related tasks. Utilize students’ familiarity with technology and promote career-oriented applications

5+2 Technology/Written Report (Use online resources for a synthetic summary)

5+8 Technology/Application (Use technology to make an educational activity targeting course content)


6 Current Events Connections Students can associate course content to current events and make connections to real-world applications. Can be varied and add information/dimension to class discussions; can be controversial and stimulating

6+3 Current Event/Online Collaboration (Post comments online to relate content and recent news item)

6+9 Current Event/Written Report (Use a real-world incident as a prompt for a written report)


7 Tests and Evaluations Students should evidence their “ownership” of course content. Can be formative or summative; include objective formats; easier to grade and can be posted and completed online and asynchronously

7+1 Tests/Reading (Assess knowledge of assigned reading in a traditional test format)

7+2 Tests/In-class Writing (Have students respond in writing to how they studied for and completed an assessment)


8 Application Projects Students should be able to apply the course content in meaningful ways. Allow for guided, but self-selected choices that promote creativity and motivation; can help connect theory to practice

8+10 Application/Service Learning (Show how course content is applied to help others)

8+4+3 Application/Online Collaboration (Have groups apply content to a scenario posted online)


9 Written Reports Students need to critically comprehend and synthesize a variety of sources based on a strong thesis statement. Expect college-level writing and higher-order thinking; represent one “big” task vs. several smaller activities

9+10 Written Report/Field Experience (Guide a written reflection to analyze a field experience)

9+8 Written Report/Application (Argue for an application or model in a written proposal)


10 Service-learning or Field Experiences Students can be challenged to integrate course content into community-oriented applications and relate theory to practice in service to others. Connect students to community for collaborative applications; put students in the field to provide negotiated services; don’t consume class time and take advantage of local resources

10+6 Service-learning/Current Event (Use a current event to target a service project)

10+5 Service-learning/Technology (Use social media to understand and support a community project)


*This was orginally "In Class Written Responses" but has been changed to "Written Responses" here to adapt it for the online teaching environment.

Source: Mohr, K. A. J. (2002). Planning for productive college-level work: Using the course assignment framework. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 26, 469-477.

Additional Resources