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Assessment and Evaluation

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Finding out how well students have learned is an important part of teaching. While the respective information can be important for assigning grades, the same and other information about student learning can be gathered and used for other important purposes. To do so, it is important to understand the difference between assessment and evaluation.

Assessment and evaluation can focus on teaching and/or learning and they can occur at a rather small scale (e.g., classroom) or a rather large scale (e.g., programs). They differ from each other fundamentally in purpose as can be seen in the following two definitions.

"a set of processes designed to improve, demonstrate, and inquire about student learning" (Mentkowski, M. qtd. in Palomba, C. A., and Banta, T. W. (1999). Assessment essentials: Planning, implementing, and improving assessment in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, emphasis added).

"the systematic process of determining the merit, value, and worth of someone (the evaluee, such as a teacher, student, or employee) or something (the evaluand, such as a product, program, policy, procedure, or process)." (Evaluation Glossary (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2007, from Western Michigan University, The Evaluation Center Web site, emphasis added).

Assessment and evaluation not only differ in their purposes but also in their use of collected information. While it is possible to use the same tools for the two approaches, the use of the data collected differs. For example, an instructor can use the results of a midterm exam for both assessment and evaluation purposes. The results can be used to review with the students course material related to common mistakes on the exam (i.e. to improve student learning as in assessment) or to decide what letter grade to give each student (i.e. to judge student achievement in the course as in evaluation).

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