Grazing - a personal blog from Steve Ehrmann

Steve Ehrmann is an author, speaker, and consultant.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Criteria for great assessment tools

I'm preparing to do some work as external evaluator on an NSF grant to Prof. Ashley Ater Kranov at Washington State University. The grant is to test their tools for teaching and assessing engineering professional skills.

As I thought about how to evaluate this project, it occurred to me that the Force Concept Inventory in physics is the most powerfully constructive assessment measure I've seen.  I listed the following five criteria to describe what's so great about the FCI:

  1. Face validity: Appears valid and interesting to faculty who don’t see themselves as ‘educationists’  
  2. Counter-intuitive results occur frequently: Often surprises first-time users with the results (bad or good), convincing them that it was worth the course time needed to use the materials and the rubric, and their own time to analyze the results and consider what to do.
  3. Sensitivity: Can detect outcome differences among different teaching methods
  4. Robustness: When used two or more times with the same cohort of students, sensitive enough to detect progress in teaching/learning strategies, even when the instructor is trying a good strategy for the first time and in a half-assed way. Several years ago I talked with a physics asst. prof. who was hooked on the FCI, and on applying PER to his teaching, for precisely this reason.  He thought of himself as an excellent lecturer. But when he did a poor job of trying some PER-based techniques, his FCI scores went up. When he tried those techniques again, better, the FCI scores went up more.
  5. Generativity: The measure and its findings often stimulate its users to consider new pedagogical approaches.
I just made up this list. It's likely someone else has already written a similar, better list of features of powerful assessment measures. Seen one?

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