A person's hand holds a pencil above a multiple-choice test bubble sheet.

The week before my first teaching experience, I had a 20-minute chat with the assistant department chair on how to teach college students. He handed me a printout of class roles for two lab sections of Introduction to College Algebra—36 students in each section. These lab sections met back-to-back two days a week and lasted for 100 minutes each. My lessons were to complement the larger lecture sections my students attended (or didn’t attend). With absolutely no teaching experience and little guidance on how to teach, I walked into the first day of class and delivered my first lessons—to my surprise it went alright. In that semester, my lesson plans were little more than a list of potential questions to work through, but my students responded well to the class interactions and attendance was good. I speculate that the conversational style of these lessons helped engage students by addressing their particular learning needs. This initial teaching experience took place in my first semester of graduate school at a state university. I learned that I loved to converse about math with students who wanted to learn. After graduate school, I took on teaching roles beyond just lab sections. The full responsibility of these new teaching roles caused me to realize that teaching involved much more than a conversation and included hard labor such as writing assessments, grading student work, and providing meaningful feedback.

My admission in this blog post is the following. In my teaching career, I have loved planning and delivering lectures, activities, and discussions with my students in the classroom, but I have not always embraced assessment and feedback work outside of the classroom. However, as I have matured in this profession, my desire, and dare I say it, enjoyment, to dig into assessment and feedback work has steadily increased. Possibly, you can relate to my admission and experience. In recent years, I have explored a few assessment models and have made some improvements to the quality and frequency of feedback in courses I teach. I see this series of blog posts as turning a corner with the reader to seriously researching and applying assessment models and feedback strategies.

As we turn this corner in our exploration, an overview of some assessment categories and terms is in order. In the first blog post we defined assessment as referring to a variety of tasks by which teachers collect information (Gronlund 2006). Assessment gives instructors and students the opportunity to monitor progress towards achieving learning goals. Summative assessment is often what comes to mind when one thinks of assessment, and allows the instructor to “evaluate student learning, knowledge, proficiency, or success at the conclusion of an instructional period, like a unit, course, or program” (BYU Idaho, Learning and Teaching Community 2020). These assessments are graded and often weighted as part of an overall course grade. In addition to summative assessment, formative assessment has garnered much attention in recent decades. Black and Wiliam (1998) describe formative assessment as “all those activities undertaken by teachers and/or by their students [that] provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged” (7). This description opens formative assessment to include two-way feedback between teachers and students. I found a helpful image that summarizes these assessment categories on the Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning website.

A chart summarizes two types of feedback: Formative - helps students to learn and practice (when: throughout the course; why: identify gaps and improve learning; how: via approaches that support specific student needs). Summative - Assesses student performance (when: at the end of the instructional period; why: collect evidence of student knowledge, skill, or proficiency; how: via exit learning products or a cumulative assessment).

(Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching)

This short treatment of summative and formative assessment categories opens a door to appreciating the complexity of assessment and feedback practices.

A student sits at a desk. She looks down at a few papers on the desk, which are filled with writing. She has one hand up to her forehead, and the other holds a pencil.

Outside of the purpose, when, why, and how of assessment, we also have the what of assessment, which is unique to the instructor’s discipline and setting. Needless to say, assessment and feedback are multifaceted and complex. Forsyth (2023) appropriately invokes Rittel and Webber’s (1973) notion of a wicked problem to characterize assessment as “unique, poorly defined, has many stakeholders with potentially conflicting values, and has no single correct solution” (15). With this problem in mind, it is no wonder instructors often avoid seriously addressing and changing their assessment and feedback practices. A common perception is: “It’s safe to keep what’s working for me.” Does what works for the instructor also work for students? Are your assessments linked to clear learning goals that are shared with students? Is the feedback you give students actionable or just evaluative? We must remember that quality teaching is not separate from quality assessment and feedback. It is our professional responsibility to tackle this wicked problem and hopefully find some enjoyment in doing so.


Black, Paul, and Dylan Wiliam. 1998. “Assessment and Classroom Learning.” Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy, & Practice 5 (1): 7–74.

BYU Idaho, Learning and Teaching Community. 2020. “Formative and Summative Assessments.” Last edited February 10, 2020. https://learningandteaching.byui.edu/guides/assessments/guides/formative-and-summative-assessments.

Forsyth, Rachel. 2023. Confident Assessment in Higher Education. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Gronlund, Norman. 2006. Assessment of Student Achievement. Third Custom Edition for the University of Alberta. Toronto: Pearson Education, Inc.

Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. n.d. “Formative and Summative Assessment.” Accessed July 7, 2023.  https://www.celt.iastate.edu/instructional-strategies/evaluating-teaching/assessment-overview/.

Rittel, Horst, and Melvin Webber. 1973. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.” Policy Sciences 4 (2): 155-169.

Aaron Trocki is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Elon University. He is the CEL Scholar for 2023-2024 and is focusing on models of assessment and feedback outside of traditional grading assumptions and approaches.

How to Cite this Post

Trocki, Aaron. 2023. “An Admission and Overview: Models of Assessment and Feedback.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. August 1, 2023. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/an-admission-and-overview-models-of-assessment-and-feedback.