The Office of Faculty Development

Assessments in the STEM Classroom

This Teaching guide was designed as a STEM specific add on to a more general teaching guide. Please read through the Teaching Guides “Formative Assessment(opens in new window)” and “Summative Assessment(opens in new window)” first.

STEM courses have traditionally been designed with summative assessments with very few, if any, formative assessments. 

High-stakes summative assessments are defined as those that have a significant impact on students' grades or educational success. For example, a course exam worth about 10% of the overall grade would be considered high stakes since students who fail or miss the exam (only one single assignment in the course) could have their overall grade in the class reduced by one whole letter. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the test taking ability of students when multiple exams are given that total a substantial portion of the course grade. The addition of a time limit to the examination emphasizes students' ability to work under pressure, to read and understand the questions quickly and accurately, and to think and write efficiently, which is typically not the focus of STEM courses. Additionally, there is a significant level of stress in this environment, which does not facilitate learning. Many credit the origin of this strategy to the idea that high-stakes tests would motivate those who were unmotivated to learn. This approach, however, has been shown to decrease intrinsic motivation for learning and to lower students' likelihood of engaging in critical thinking. High stakes assessments have their place, but their use should be deliberate.

In most cases, formative assessments have not been used, with most feedback coming from summative assessment scores. In the last decade or so, technology such as iClickers and Poll Everywhere has started to be used by some instructors as a formative assessment tool (they are also sometimes utilized as a summative assessment tool). The purpose of formative assessments is twofold: (1) the student gets a chance to check their own understanding of the current material without any repercussions for having misconceptions or limited understanding and (2) the instructor can check in with students and the class overall to understand their progress. It is imperative to include these assessments in the course design as they are highly valuable.

Expand All | Collapse All


    Examine selected research on Equitable Assessment in STEM. 

    Madaus, G. F., & Clarke, M. (2001). The Adverse Impact of High Stakes Testing on Minority Students: Evidence from 100 Years of Test Data.

    Ralph, V. R., Scharlott, L. J., Schafer, A. G. L., Deshaye, M. Y., Becker, N. M., & Stowe, R. L. (2022). Advancing Equity in STEM: The Impact Assessment Design Has on Who Succeeds in Undergraduate Introductory Chemistry.  JACS Au2(8), 1869–1880. in new window)

    Gioka, O. (2009). Teacher or examiner? The tensions between formative and summative assessment in the case of science coursework.  Research in Science Education (Australasian Science Education Research Association)39(4), 411–428. in new window)

    Wiliam, D. (2008). Assessment in education: Principles, policy & practice. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice15(3), 253-257.


    Ready to apply equitable assessment practices to your STEM teaching? Here are some ideas and strategies to get you started:

    Formative assessment implementation:

    • Ask your students to identify subjects or topics they find difficult to comprehend, preferably anonymously or confidentially.
    • Have students express their thoughts, struggles, or concerns
    • Request students to discuss the achievements and struggles of their group after an assignment
    • Ask students to self-evaluate their growth and performance

    How: Google Form/Canvas Survey before class, notecards in class, Poll Everywhere in class, etc.

    Equitable summative assessment implementation:

    • Ensure that your grading methods are balanced
      • Focus on the essential components
      • Assess at an appropriate level for your students, course level, and content area being sure to use clear language students can understand
      • Shift focus from scores to learning gains by allowing corrections
    • Make your scoring and grading transparent
      • Include point values for different sections
      • be clear about the learning objectives being assessed
    • Design an assessment in a hierarchical manner. 
      • A recall question preceding a comparison or application question serves two purposes
        • students can earn some points even if they only understand at a lower level
        • The recall question may assist students in demonstrating their knowledge more accurately.
      • be purposeful with your choice of when to test for near/far transfers(opens in new window) and why.
    • Whenever possible, allow students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways or formats.
      • Ex: write a paragraph or draw and label a diagram






How do I ensure my assessments are equitable and inclusive for all students?(opens in new window) webpage connecting Universal Design for Learning concepts

This list of common terms and some actionable ideas from the Assessment Network(opens in new window)

Toward more equitable assessment with Erin Whitteck and Douglas Fritz(opens in new window)

Assessment of Learning Playlist (opens in new window)from the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

First and Next Steps: Moving towards Culturally Responsive Assessment (PDF)