In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Higher Education Student Assessment

  • Introduction and Overview
  • Books
  • Journals
  • Organizations and Associations
  • Assessment Resources
  • Accountability, Quality Assurance, and Accreditation Issues
  • Continuous Improvement Issues
  • Generic Skills Assessments
  • Discipline-Specific Assessments
  • Large-Scale Assessments
  • Classroom Assessments
  • Noncognitive Assessment
  • Assessment Debates

Education Higher Education Student Assessment
Mary Catharine Lennon, Hamish Coates
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0183

Introduction and Overview

The assessment of student learning, along with curriculum and teaching, can be considered one of the three main pillars of education. Like any basic concept, student assessment is defined in a variety of ways. Most broadly, it refers to the definition; design; measurement; reporting; and interpretation of knowledge, skill, or attitude. Assessments are designed for a plethora of summative or formative purposes across all levels of education, and within substantive, technical, and practical constraints. Definition is required to provide clarity at a suitable level of granularity regarding the knowledge, skill, or attitude being assessed. Measurement plays out in a range of ways, ranging from informal observations, to essays and papers, to the formal administration of large-scale multiple-choice tests. Reporting can be for individuals, groups, or whole institutions, and may involve numbers, letters, or interpretive statements. Interpretation is shaped by the consequences of assessment outcomes, and the contexts into which outcomes are delivered. This article provides an overview of key resources on student learning assessment in higher education, touching on key facets of assessment. The article attempts to embrace both fundamentals and contemporary developments, including issues of practical implementation and theoretical controversy. Over the last few decades, changes in societal knowledge, technical standards, and administration technology have shaken foundations that have remained unchanged for millennia. Similarly, changes in higher education contexts and institutions—including, for instance, fundamental transformations in curriculum and teaching—have repositioned the role of assessment in higher education overall. To convey this territory, this article presents research on assessment science and research, assessment policy and practice, and domains and topics. Because of the applied nature of assessment work, much of the literature is “gray,” stemming from on-the-ground research and policy activities that serve to support continuous improvement. Similarly, much of the technical advances made in the area are unpublished, as they are conducted and owned by commercial enterprises. Hence, the works presented in this article are, generally, publications appearing since 2005, and are equally balanced between those found in books, academic journals, associations, think tanks, and for-profit and nonprofit organizations in order to fairly represent the current state of knowledge in this evolving field. The sections of this article summarize key Books, Journals, Organizations and Associations, and Assessment Resources. We highlight scholarly and other papers under additional headings: Accountability, Quality Assurance, and Accreditation Issues; Continuous Improvement Issues; Generic Skills Assessments; Discipline-Specific Assessments; Large-Scale Assessments; Classroom Assessments; Noncognitive Assessment; and Assessment Debates.


Book-length studies of assessment allow for broader and deeper analysis and discussion of higher education assessment. Such resources are useful to people who are new to the field or may not have the time or interest to read deeper on more specific matters. Many of the books are edited volumes of case studies of specific national activities or pilot projects. Because of the ad hoc nature of developments, the books capture current activities by leading thinkers. Overviews exist such as Blömeke, et al. 2013, which reviews the international state of research on modeling and measuring competencies in higher education across several academic disciplines and countries. Another broad review is Coates 2014, an international stock take of the planning implementation, review, and improvement of the assessment of higher education student learning outcomes. Coates 2016 provides a synthesis of existing developments and strategy for guiding future growth of the field. Additionally, Kuh, et al. 2014 looks over decades of research in student assessment to present a strategy for reforming assessment in higher education. More specific books in the role of assessment include Boud and Falchikov 2007, which analyzes the relationship of assessment to teaching, curriculum, and student motivations and outcomes. Carless 2015 and Shavelson 2010 also compile case studies across disciplines and institutions, which contribute to the practical implications of assessments. Meanwhile, Norrie and Lennon 2013 focuses on assessment policy foundations and the development of in-class and more standardized assessment resources. Resources targeted for practitioners exist with Palomba and Banta 2014 and Secolsky and Brian 2012, contributing discussion of theory, methods, and emerging topics.

  • Blömeke, S., O. Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia, C. Kuhn, and J. Fege, eds. 2013. Modeling and measuring competencies in higher education: Tasks and challenges. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.

    Review of the international state of research on modeling and measuring competencies in higher education across several academic disciplines and countries. Considers a range of technical, practical, and policy matters.

  • Boud, D., and N. Falchikov, eds. 2007. Rethinking assessment in higher education: Learning for the longer term. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis.

    Presents a critical rethinking of the role of assessment in higher education, analyzing its relationship to teaching, curriculum, and student motivation and outcomes. Written for a broad audience interested in the improvement of higher education.

  • Carless, D. 2015. Excellence in university assessment: Learning from award-winning practice. Hoboken, NJ: Taylor and Francis.

    Framed by a model of learning-oriented assessment, this book presents case studies of excellent assessment across disciplines and institutions. A rich scholarly account that contributes to the theory and practice of assessment. Provides recommendations for practitioners.

  • Coates, H., ed. 2014. Higher education learning outcomes assessment: International insights. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

    An international stock take of the planning, implementation, review, and improvement of the assessment of higher education student learning outcomes. Incorporates chapters from a diverse range of experts in the field.

  • Coates, H. 2016. The market for learning: Leading transparent higher education. Singapore: Springer.

    Synthesis of existing institutional, national, and international assessment initiatives, and presentation of a strategy for advancing the field.

  • Kuh, G. D., S. O. Ikenberry, N. A. Jankowski, T. R. Cain, P. Hutchings, and J. Kinzie. 2014. Using evidence of student learning to improve higher education. San Francisco: John Wiley.

    Brings together years of extensive research into student assessment to present a strategy for reforming assessment in higher education, taking into account the needs of student learning, teaching, institution accountability, and broader policy debates.

  • Norrie, K., and M. C. Lennon, eds. 2013. Measuring the value of a postsecondary education. Montreal and Kingston, Canada: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press.

    Focusing on the practice/policy nexus, this book presents a collection of papers from an international group of scholars. From policy foundations, it looks at the specification of learning outcomes, the development of in-class and more standardized assessment resources, and implications of assessment for policy and practice.

  • Palomba, C. A., and T. W. Banta. 2014. Assessment essentials: Planning, implementing improving assessment in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    A comprehensive overview of assessment in higher education. Provides discussion of theory, method, resources, and case studies. Incorporates discussion of emerging topics. Designed for assessment researchers and practitioners.

  • Secolsky, C., and D. D. Brian, eds. 2012. Handbook on measurement, assessment, and evaluation in higher education. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

    An integrated handbook for diverse stakeholders which brings together contributions from leading scholars on theory, practice and method. Looks at in-class assessment, accountability and accreditation, theories and measurement, ethics and contexts.

  • Shavelson, R. J. 2010. Measuring college learning responsibly: Accountability in a new era. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    Critical examination of the role played by assessment in higher education accountability. Discusses the evolution of new frameworks, technologies, and debates. Analyzes implications for practice and policy, drawing on case studies of institutional practice and assessments.

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