Outcomes-based assessment is a process of gathering evidence on learning based on the number of learning outcomes achieved rather than the sum of marks on different assessment tasks (James, 2019).
Why outcomes-based assessment?
Students know exactly what they are going to learn.
Once students are clear about what they would learn, they are more likely to take responsibility for learning what they agreed on.
Students would learn more deeply as they have to show evidence that they have achieved each learning outcome (LO) not just getting a pass score or adding up scores.
Instructors would mark fewer assessment tasks as students would keep experimenting with unmarked and ungraded assignments until they feel they can achieve target LOs before taking marked attempts.
Both instructors and students clearly monitor performance and improvement over time on each LO.
Instructors can adjust their courses in light of early feedback on LOs.
Students can adjust study plans and learning strategies in light of early feedback on LOs.
Instructors and students’ focus is on achieving LOs not on the assessments, which improves learning and allows for deep understanding and learning transfer.
Outcomes-based assessments are transparent, congruent with LOs and improve learning.
Outcomes-based assessments ensure quality, accountability and flexibility.
Outcomes-based assessment ensures that all graduates have achieved the minimal standards of competencies to make them successful in the workplace (James, 2019).
Impact on curriculum/ course content
Outcomes-based assessment requires curriculum/ course content to be outcomes-driven in terms of scope, balance (weight), sequence and continuity. Each unit is developed to address a particular learning outcome or a set of learning outcomes (James, 2019; Wiggins & McTighe, 1999).
Impact on course delivery
Outcomes-based assessment requires curriculum/ instructional activities to be outcomes-driven in terms of lesson planning and development. This means each lesson or set of lessons is planned and delivered to achieve a particular learning outcome. This is different from writing learning outcomes to address the lesson content (James, 2019; Wiggins & McTighe, 1999).
How different is outcomes-based assessment from traditional assessment?
Course/ curriculum design
Determine the LOs you want to develop (end result).
Determine acceptable level of performance (instead of marks) as evidence of achieving LOs.
Identify the performance indicators for achieving each LO.
Define the knowledge students must achieve as evidence of competent or successful performance.
Define the skills students must achieve as evidence of competent or successful performance.
Plan the assessments to measure the set level of performance.
Plan the instructional content suitable to achieve LOs.
Plan the instructional activities suitable to achieve LOs (James, 2019; Wiggins & McTighe, 1999).
Plan for multiple formative and ungraded assessments of each LO.
Give as many formative assessment attempts as possible.
Provide early feedback on the progress toward achieving each LO.
Do not take average of attempts as evidence of performance, as attempts (assessment results) that do not provide evidence on achieving target LOs are not counted.
Only the attempt (the most recent evidence) that shows the outcome has been achieved is counted.
James (2019) gives an excellent analogy with a driver’s test. “You don’t average in the first time you practiced with your final road test. Even if you fail your road test once, you get the score from your second attempt, not the combined score from your first and second, because the goal is to measure how competent you’ve become, rather than average in all attempts.”
Counting toward the final grade is based on LOs achievement rather than cumulating scores of the assessment tasks.
For example, although a student’s performance on some assessment tasks improves, it is not counted in the final grade because the student did not achieve the target LO.
We are not adding up scores on assessment tasks. We are adding up achieved LOs.
For example, achievement of learning outcome 1 is assigned 5% in the final grade, outcome 2 is assigned 7 % in the final grade and so on. An individual test might have 50% of its marks assigned for outcome 1 and another 50% for outcome 2. While the test overall score is 100 and the student has got the full mark, the actual count in the final grade is 12 % not 100% or 100 points! We are weighting by outcome, not by how much assignments and tests are worth.
The outcomes-based assessment cycle
According to Western University (2021), program evaluation and development is best achieved through an outcomes-based assessment cycle of four iterative stages:
Stage 1: Planning (develop evaluation research plan)