Incorporating Simple, Student-Designed Assessments

These assessments increase student accountability and provide a way to personalize learning without a lot of extra time and effort.

November 30, 2022

Student-designed assessments and personalized learning are two popular trends in education that often come across as complicated and overwhelming for many educators. These practices are difficult to figure out how to begin, but there are practical ways to incorporate them without requiring a lot of additional prep time through a focus on simple student-designed assessments.

Student-designed assessments are where students have a say in how they will be assessed and/or what will be on their assessment. In this case, simplified student-designed assessments are those that do not require any additional technology nor in-depth planning on the part of the teacher. Instead, these assessments are created in 15-20 minute chunks in the class period and do not require the use of new platforms, technology, or complicated steps.

There are three useful and practical methods I use on a regular basis in my classes that are effective, no matter the students’ level or age, and are applied across different content areas.

3 Means of Student-Designed Assessments

1. Pick and choose. This is good for the class or teacher who is new to this concept. As you approach an upcoming assessment, give students a series of practice questions (or tasks). Have groups identify a few questions that they feel everyone should be able to do (the “baseline questions”) and others that would be a challenge–but doable (the “challenging”). Then, quickly scan what they chose and compare it to what is already on the assessment or what is planned. 

Do the students seem to understand what they should know? If yes, then the assessment could go well. If not, perhaps some re-teaching or extra review would be necessary. 

2. Create a question/task. This is similar to the task above, but with more creativity. Have students think of a topic that you have been studying. In small groups or pairs, students actually generate a few questions, prompts, or tasks in the same categories mentioned above: baseline and challenging. They can submit this to you through small groups or as part of a whole-class meeting. You can use these to generate your questions for the assessment. 

What universally surprises educators with this approach is that students can identify what they all should know and recognize doable challenges as appropriate assessment questions. When they take the assessment, there is a stronger sense of accountability—since they had a part in generating it. I have found that, as a result, they will give very thoughtful and engaged answers. 

3. Rubric descriptors. This one can be tricky to do with some classes, and I would suggest doing this after you have done one of the activities above. You give groups a blank rubric for an upcoming performance-based assessment. Have students come up with bullet point items of what “meets expectations” looks like. Then, as a class, you discuss those, and you can generate a descriptor for that section of the rubric together. 

Depending on the class’ ability to focus, you then fill in the other sections of the rubric. When students actually do the task (where they will be graded on the rubric), there’s a stronger sense of what they should be able to do since they created the expectations. 

Benefits and Challenges

There are some obvious benefits to incorporating simple student-designed assessments into your pedagogical practice.

Ownership. While you obviously may need to gently nudge students to appropriate questions or rubric descriptors, this allows students to feel that they have a voice in the process. 

Demonstration of knowledge. Creating an assessment allows students to show what they understand and is an assessment in and of itself. Even if students are identifying potential questions, they are still showing that they understand what’s relevant to the topic of study, and this requires critical reflective skills.

Time efficiency. Making assessments can be time-consuming, as is re-teaching content when students do not perform well on assessments. Therefore, taking any steps at the onset to mitigate either of these outcomes can be beneficial for teacher and student alike. 

There are also obvious challenges to implementing this into a classroom, but the good news is that these can be overcome.

Knowledge of content area. Students may feel that they are unable to generate questions for an upcoming assessment due to their lack of knowledge about the content area. However, with guidance from classmates, most students should be able to at the very least identify questions or tasks that they should be able to do. 

Lack of curriculum control. Some educators don’t have a lot of control over what will be on an assessment, so letting students design the assessments is challenging. However, the process discussed here could then be used as a way to review topics that will be assessed and you can reinforce those critical topics through discussion. 

Tips for Implementation

Interested in giving this a try? Here are my best suggestions for incorporating student-designed assessments in your classroom on a regular basis. 

  • Start small. For many educators, the first option of picking and choosing questions is the easiest.
  • Be concise. This does not need to be an extensive classroom activity. Allot 15-20 minutes maximum for the activity, and move on with the rest of the instruction.
  • Use the questions. If you want to create buy-in and ownership in the process, the students need to see that their feedback is useful.
  • Make it timely. Do this enough in advance to address any confusion or be willing to adjust the date of the assessment. 

In conclusion, a more personalized learning (and assessment) experience does not need to be complicated nor stressful. As educators, it can be difficult  to relinquish some of the control that we have in the classroom. However, perhaps sharing some of this control with our students can lead to a more personalized and engaged experience.  

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  • Assessment
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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