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.

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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)