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  • Writer's pictureNicole Papaioannou Lugara

Making Assessments Meaningful: Developing Assessments, Pt 2

Assessments are amazing learning tools. They provide an opportunity to check in on progress and get feedback. They can help to identify learning gaps and make needed adaptations.

If we want people to improve, assessment is necessary.

So in part 2 of the Developing Assessments posts, we're going to talk about what makes for meaningful assessment.

Types of Assessment

There are (at least) two types of assessment:

Formative Assessment - These are assessments given while learning is "taking form." It's the kind of assessment that happens in the middle of a learning experience, a check in. They help learners make adjustments before they're too far along.

Summative Assessment - These are assessments given at the "end" of a learning experience, typically for more evaluative purposes.

For example, in school, you may have had a class discussion where the teacher checked everyone's understanding of a certain subject matter. Later, there may have been a final exam on that topic that resulted in a grade.

Too often, unfortunately, formative assessments are forgotten. Evaluation (ranking and judgment) are prioritized over feedback and growth.

Another problem when it comes to assessment is that the word assessment gets used interchangeably with the words "quiz" and "exam" more often than most learning professionals would like. While quizzes and exams certainly can be assessments, they're just a small subset, and in the workplace, possibly some of the least effective assessments.

When you design, consider blending the two. Allow opportunities for learners to adjust along the way before having to demonstrate their peak performance at the end.


To create great assessments, we need purposeful performance objectives. You can learn more about how to write them in last week's blog post.

Once we've got them, it makes the job of picking the right solution much easier.

For example, if I'm training a new fast food restaurant employee on day 1, and I know they'll be cooking the burgers, I could ask them to demonstrate making a burger, time their process, and then taste test it.

I'm not going to check their ability to manage a team. Maybe, at some point, my purpose will change if I see leadership potential, but today, on day 1, the purpose I need them to fulfill is to make 100 delicious burgers safely and efficiently per shift.

That is what I should be assessing.


The assessment task should closely reflect the real world scenarios in which the skill or behavior change will be needed. The more similar in nature, the easier it will be for the learner to make the connection and transfer for the learning from one context to another.

For example, if you're quizzing people with multiple choice questions asking about definitions of key terms, but what you really need them to do is make decisions on the fly based on available information, then you won't be able to help them see if they're achieving competency.

That doesn't mean the assessment needs to be an exact replica of the desired performance outcome. Mr. Miyagi was able to teach karate by making Daniel wax on/wax off, right?

But there should be a way for the connection between the learning and the task to be made apparent easily if you want people to get up to speed quickly. The more mental hoops they have to jump through to figure it out, the more risk of failure.


This is a big one, and often overlooked. Meaningful assessment can take time, both in terms of completion of the task and in terms of time to evaluate.

From school, we probably all know that it's much easier for a teacher to grade a scantron test than it is to give thoughtful feedback on student writing. Therefore, the less effective assessment often gets used.

In the workplace, this happens too. How many "end of module" mini multiple choice quizzes have been given when, really, demonstrating the completion of a task for a supervisor would be a better test of skill?

To the degree possible, acknowledge and make time for meaningful assessment.


Picture this: You're going on vacation, and that requires air travel. You find out that the pilot who is flying your aircraft is new. After passing oral exams, they flew a flight simulator for 1000 hours but never got any feedback from a more experienced pilot to operate your flight. Would you trust them to fly you? Aside from the fact that this would never be legal... you're probably thinking-- heck no!

You're likely hoping that the pilot who flies your plane spent plenty of time in the simulator, getting feedback from flight instructors, and then doing some supervised flights before being placed in a position where they would be responsible for your well-being.

That's because feedback is important. It enables learners to make adjustments, to avoid bad habits, identify gaps in their learning, and to understand their degree of success. If you give people tasks to complete without any feedback, then you're short-changing the learning experience.

For some tips on providing feedback to employees, check out "What I Learned about Giving Employee Feedback from Teaching Writing."

Reflection & Revision

Think about the papers you wrote in college or high school. After you got a grade, how much did you care about what you wrote? Did you save your paper? Did you chuck it in the bin? Odds are they stopped mattering very much once you n longer had an opportunity to reflect and revise. Even if you provide a great assessment and feedback, if there is no opportunity to consider that feedback and try to improve, then it can stunt the learning.

Meaningful assessments allow learners the opportunity to reflect on their progress, make plans for improvement, and put those plans into action. In many ways, they are as much about learning to learn or learning to think (metacognition) as they are about the subject matter. Moments for reflection and revision can be formal or informal, short or long.

Back to the burger chef for a moment. As they demonstrate their burger making process, you notice they mess up a bit. They add an extra slice of cheese and leave out a pickle.

What do you think would be a more effective way to improve performance?:

A) Tell them "This isn't quite correct. You added an extra slice of cheese and left out a pickle."

B) Ask them, "Take a look at the burger. It's not quite right. What do you think could use improvement?" After they answer correctly, you ask them to make it again.


Option B is more likely to make the correct process memorable. It's also the better assessment because it allows the employee to self-assess through reflection, which more closely reflects what will happen in the real world, when no manager is there to QC the end product.

Final Thoughts

Assessment is a hefty topic, and in no way is this a conclusive list of what needs to go into assessment planning and delivery to make meaningful assessments. However, when you consider these 6 elements, you're more likely to make something that empowers learners to think critically and apply effectively.


Get started on the path to great assessments by collecting important information about the learning context upfront.

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