13. Assessment of Learners’ Work

Teacher is grading a paper.Students need guidance on what’s expected of them as they complete their assignment. This is particularly true of alternative assessments where several criteria could be used to determine the quality of a submission.

What are the markers of a quality submission in your class? How much are each of the criteria you plan to use to assess the work worth? For example, do you value professional writing (writing free of typos and grammatical mistakes) above the depth of the research conducted, or is a professional product a “nice to have” that pushes a good project into the “great” category?

Students need transparency about how their work will be assessed. This not only reduces anxiety but also helps them learn, by focusing their attention on what a good deliverable looks like.


There are many ways to convey this to learners. One way is to create a rubric that outlines the criteria by which their work will be assessed, how much each criterion contributes to the quality of the deliverable (how many points each is worth), and what the performance looks like for different levels of proficiency. The following webpage from the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence provides an overview of the why, what, and how of rubrics.

A robot gives a thumbs up to a student.Consider developing a rubric to communicate your expectations to learners. The rubric can be used for summative assessment, meaning that you will use it to assign a grade to each learner for their submission. You can use the same rubric in formative assessment. For example, in a scaffolded project, students may first submit their project to peers, who use the rubric to provide feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of the student’s work. The student then uses the feedback to improve the work before their final submission. Note that when peers use the rubric to evaluate their colleague’s work, they gain a better understanding of what constitutes good quality work (by examining an example, which they will contrast to their own work) In other words, this formative assessment activity helps both the evaluator and the evaluee learn.

A GenAI chatbots can help you create the first draft of a rubric for your assessment, but you will likely need to customize it for your course.

VALUE Rubrics

The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) developed a set of 16 rubrics to assess skills commonly taught in an undergraduate education – skills like Critical Thinking, Ethical Reasoning, Quantitative Literacy, Teamwork, Oral Communication, Problem Solving, and Written Communication. These rubrics are called the VALUE rubrics (VALUE is an acronym for Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education). They are called “valid” because much research has gone into their development, to ensure that they evaluate the skill that they say they evaluate. These rubrics are open educational resources, available free of charge to any educator. Consider adopting a VALUE rubric, creating your own by combining elements from different VALUE rubrics, or adapting a VALUE rubric.

Student Co-Created Rubrics

Student feeling empowered.Consider another way to use a rubric to communicate what excellent work looks like to your learners. Give learners several examples of final products. These examples should vary in their quality. Some should be excellent, some less so. You can collect excellent examples from past student submissions (ask them for permission to show their work to future classes). You can ask a GenAI tool to create “less good” examples.

When you assign the project, give students 3-5 examples of final products and ask them to compare them. Then, lead a class discussion where students identify elements of excellent submissions. Together, co-create a rubric. Doing it in this way – with student input – will ensure that they understand what each criterion is and the type of excellent work to aim for.

Consider this: As an educator, you have examined dozens of student products, so you are able to tell apart good from not-so-good work. Students don’t have the benefit of this experience. This activity will expose them to a variety of examples and help them differentiate what makes good from great work.

To Do

Develop your evaluation plan for the assessment. Some of the things you may want to consider as you do so include:

  1. Review the learning objectives of your course and for this assignment. These should be top of mind as you develop your evaluation plan (your assessment criterion should align with the learning objectives).
  2. If the assessment is scaffolded (if students will be submitting work in stages) consider whether each (or some) of the intermediate products will be assessed for grades. For example, in an essay, would the submission of an outline merit any grade? How about a first draft? If you plan to assign a meta-cognitive component to the project (e.g., a reflection), will it be graded?
  3. Articulate the assessment criterion that you will use to assess student submissions. What are the elements of an excellent submission, one that shows that students have mastered the learning objective of the assignment?
  4. What is the relative weight of each of these criteria?
  5. How might you describe excellent performance for each criterion? Do you have examples that you could share with students?
  6. If you decide to use a rubric to communicate your expectations, create it. Also decide when and how it will be used in the assignment (e.g., will there be a peer review formative activity, as well as a final summative evaluation using this rubric?)
  7. If you decide that you will not use a rubric, how will you communicate your expectations to learners? You could, for example, provide several examples of past student works with their associated final grades, so that students can gain a sense of what constitutes excellent, good, and developing submissions. Even if you do not use a rubric, you may want to note how you plan to ascribe a grade to each submission, for example, a plan to deduct 2 points for each spelling mistake.
Develop a clear plan for how you will assess this assignment.

Note: Images created using Bing Image Creator (September 2023)