Testing Transparency: Helping Students Understand The Bigger Picture

Improve Student Outcomes By Delivering Assessment Data
Summary: When students have access to assessment data and insight, they're empowered with the information they need to study smarter.

Improve Student Outcomes By Delivering Data

Too many institutions of higher learning aren’t equipping their students to meet the specific learning outcomes for which they are responsible. Students receive grades on tests, but they don’t receive any detailed information on areas where they struggled or succeeded. That makes it much more difficult for them to meet learning outcomes, like critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and writing skills. In turn, when students fail to meet these outcomes, the administration begins to question instructors, curricula, and the type of students they are admitting.

The solution can be found through actionable data. School administrations should provide students an assessment report, giving them more specific information about and better control over their academic performance.

Giving Students A Voice

Typically, it’s the faculty member who gets to choose whether a student receives data on their performance and the kind of data that will be available. But students don’t often see assessment data, they just see grades, so they’re not aware of their specific areas of difficulty. It’s critical that students be allowed more involvement in their own academic success and given the supporting data to do so. School administrative staff should start by reaching out to students to receive feedback on what improving their learning experience should look like. Establishing a partnership between administration, faculty, and students will build relationships that support academic learning and creates a space for transparency.

Knowledge Vs. Requirements 

There can be a conflict in higher education on whether we should be measuring skills or measuring demonstration of knowledge. During the grading process, instructors struggle to grade students based on their actual mastery or on whether they followed instructions and fulfilled requirements. For example, during a writing assessment, a student does not include APA citations and fails that part of the exam. Does not including APA citations make that student an insufficient writer? Not necessarily. The exam instructions may not have been clear that APA citations were required. Assessments should include specific and transparent instructions so students have the best chance at passing the assessment. Transparency will continue to enhance student performance within assessments and put students’ needs at the forefront of testing.

The Transparency Solution 

Some administration and faculty have shown resistance to transparency because it can be viewed as spoon-feeding. Their argument is that by providing too much insight—informing students on exactly how to take a test and what is required—we are essentially giving students the answers. If all the students have the answers, they are not learning anything, and everyone will receive an A. But transparency is not about spoon-feeding students information but about taking things that are often implicit and making them explicit. Implying assessment requirements only hinders student success, and student success should be the primary goal of the partnership between administration, faculty, and students. Explicitly stating what is expected and giving students access to the data they need to see where they’ve struggled will only encourage academic achievement.

Transparency In Certification

Transparency within education should also occur at the certification level. For example, some graduates take specific certification exams to become licensed and practice in a particular field. After years of undergraduate education and even several years of graduate school, the results of a single cumulative summative exam are sent directly to the student’s institution. All students know is whether they passed or failed. Students need item-level scores to know where they lost points. If they did not pass the exam, they can focus on improving these areas of weakness. There are solutions out there that can refine the process, where as soon as the student finishes their exam, they can see their full exam performance, including specific areas on which to focus.

Future Of Assessment Data

Students shouldn’t be pressured to meet learning outcomes when we are not providing them with all the tools needed to be successful. We should provide them with the transparency they need to see where they are struggling and give them the opportunity for meaningful remediation so they can excel academically. The future of assessment should also consist of a portfolio of exams, projects, and work that show cumulative skill, knowledge, and mastery rather than relying on a single summative exam. And while some exam-takers may not agree, the future may also mean ongoing assessment throughout a career to ensure lifelong learning. These are the areas where we can improve not just assessment, but meaningful learning and improved outcomes—both in the classroom and beyond.