Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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Assessment of student learning

core definition

Assessment of student learning is the process of evaluating the extent to which participants in education have developed their knowledge, understanding and abilities.

explanatory context

Assessment of student learning may be formative or summative.


Assessment, especially if it is summative, is usually graded.


Achievement of satisfactory summative grades is frequently used to signify progress or the achievement of an award. (The award of a Ph.D., for example, is a situation where summative grading is rarely used.)


Assessment covers the whole development of student learning evaluation, while grading refers to the specific attachment of marks/grades. The UK QAA (2000) notes:

Assessment plays a significant role in the learning experience of students. It determines their progression through their programmes and enables them to demonstrate that they have achieved the intended learning outcomes. It is assessment that provides the main basis for public recognition of achievement, through the awarding of qualifications and/or credit.

Assessment is usually construed as being either diagnostic, formative or summative. … Any assessment instrument can, and often does, involve more than one of these elements. So, for example, much coursework is formative in that it provides an opportunity for students to be given feedback on their level of attainment, but also often counts towards the credit being accumulated for a summative statement of achievement. An end-of-module or end-of-programme examination is designed primarily to result in a summative judgement on the level of attainment the student has reached. Both formative and summative assessment can have a diagnostic function. Assessment primarily aimed at diagnosis is intrinsically formative, though it might, rarely, contribute towards a summative judgement.

It is important to distinguish between assessment of student learning as described here and the USA notion of assessment as part of the Assessment Movement, which is more akin to improvement of the student experience (see assessment).

analytical review

Although there is a taken-for-granted view of what assessment of students does, there tend to be few definitions of this notion of assessment.

Charles Sturt University (2011) defines it simply as:

The determination of a student's level of mastery of a subject.

The QEPSE-Leonardo (2011) Glossary states:

Assessment of student learning is the process of evaluating the extent to which participants in education have developed their knowledge, understanding and abilities.

Bewertung von schulischen Lernerfolgen: Der Prozess, den Umfang zu bewerten, innerhalb dessen Bildungsteilnehmer ihre Kenntnisse, ihr Verständnis und ihre Fähigkeiten entwickelt haben.

The UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (2006) in its Code of Practice state

In higher education, 'assessment' describes any processes that appraise an individual's knowledge, understanding, abilities or skills. There are many different forms of assessment, serving a variety of purposes. These include: promoting student learning by providing the student with feedback, normally to help improve his/her performance; valuating student knowledge, understanding, abilities or skills; providing a mark or grade that enables a student's performance to be established. The mark or grade may also be used to make progress decisions; enabling the public (including employers), and higher education providers, to know that an individual has attained an appropriate level of achievement that reflects the academic standards set by the awarding institution and agreed UK norms, including the frameworks for higher education qualifications. This may include demonstrating fitness to practise or meeting other professional requirements.

(2001) notes:

Assessment: a generic term for a set of processes that measure the outcomes of students’learning, in terms of knowledge acquired, understanding developed and skills gained.

and Anderson, (1998, p. 2):

define assessment as the systematic gathering and analyzing of information to improve student learning.

T. Dary Erwin (1991, p. 14) wrote:

Assessment is defined as the systematic basis for making inferences about the learning and development of students. More specifically, assessment is the process of defining, selecting, designing, collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and using information to increase students’ learning and development.


The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) (2009) states:

Assessment for Learning has been defined by Black and Wiliam as ‘all those activities undertaken by teachers and/or by their students which provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged’ (SQA, 2009, p. 4).

Wojtczak (2002) defines assessment of students in the context of medical education as follows:

Assessment: A system of evaluation of professional accomplishments using defined criteria and usually including an attempt at measurement either by grading on a rough scale or by assigning numerical value. The purpose of assessment in an educational context is to make a judgment about the level of skills or knowledge, to measure improvement over time, to evaluate strengths and weaknesses, to rank students for selection or exclusion, or to motivate. Assessment should be as objective and reproducible as possible. A reliable test should produce the same or similar scores on two or more occasions or if given by two or more assessors. The validity of a test is determined by the extent to which it measures whatever it sets out to measure. One can distinguish three types of assessment: Formative assessment, Summative assessment, Criterion-referenced assessment.

The University of South Australia (2011) states:

Assessment: A measurement of a studentís skill and knowledge. Judgments are made about the extent to which a student has achieved course objectives and demonstrated Graduate Qualities. This may occur both during a course and at the end of a course. Assessment tasks can take a variety of forms including written assignments, examinations, laboratory work, oral presentations, and practical assignments. Usually the lecturer or tutor will assess the work, but sometimes a student is required to assess their own work (self-assessment) or the work of others (peer assessment).

Continuous assessment tasks: These occur within regularly scheduled class time and do not require any additional preparation time other than what would normally be expected for class participation. A course may have a number of these tasks during the semester. Collectively these are known as a set of continuous assessment tasks.

Progressive assessment: Assessments that occur during the study period and prior to a final summative assessment.

Assessment period:The period of time following a teaching period, but within a study period, during which final summative assessment occurs, including examinations.

Assessment point: An assessment point occurs when students are asked to submit work at a specified point of time in the course, including an end of course examination where these are used. Tasks associated with assessment points require students to work beyond their regular contact and preparation time.

Deferred assessment (including examination): Deferred assessment is a form of secondary assessment which is granted to students who have been unable to complete the final assessment/examination, to enable them to achieve a final grade in a course. Students may apply for deferred assessment if they can demonstrate, with supporting documentation, that due to unexpected or exceptional circumstances they are unable to sit the final examination or submit the final assessment by the due date. Students must demonstrate that the unexpected or exceptional circumstances occurred in a period of time directly related to attendance at the examination, or to the deadline for submission of the final assessment.

associated issues


related areas

See also

formative assessment


summative assessment

assessment of teaching

assessment [of quality]


Charles Sturt University, Division of Student Administration, 2011, Glossary of Terms, available at accessed 31 January 2011, not available 28 January 2012.

Erwin, T.D., 1991, Assessing Student Learning and Development, Jossey-Bass.

QEPSE-Leonardo, 2011, Glossary, available at, accessed 5 March 2011, not available 29 January 2012.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), 2006, Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education, Section 6: Assessment of students, Second Edition September 2006, available at, accessed 2 February 2011, not at this address 29 Jnuary 2012..

Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), 2009, Guide to Assessment, November 2009 edition, Glasgow, Scottish Qualifications Authority, available at, accessed 19 September 2012, page not available 31 December 2016.

University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), 2001, Annex 1: Glossary, UM/DG/005, posted 30/08/01. No longer at this address, 2 February 2011. UMIST merged with the Victoria University of Manchester to form the University of Manchester on 22 October 2004.

University of South Australia, 2011, General Definitions available at, accessed 23 July 2012, still available 31 December 2016, not found 19 June 2019.

Walfoord, B. and Anderson, V.J., 1988, Effective Grading (Jossey Bass).

Wojtczak, A., 2002, Glossary of Medical Education Terms,, December, 2000, Revised February 2002, accessed 2 September 2012, page not available 30 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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