Direct and Indirect Assessment Measures

Student learning can be measured in different ways but often fall into two broad categories: direct and indirect assessment.

Direct Measures

Direct assessments measure actual student work through assessment instruments such as exams, essays, presentations, and portfolios. They are aligned to student learning outcomes and provide tangible evidence of what students have learned. Consequently, direct assessments are considered the most meaningful in terms of measuring learning outcomes achievement.

One question often asked is whether assessment instruments should be part of the course grade or maintained separately. The most meaningful assessment of student learning comes from direct assessment instruments that are embedded in regular course assignments (NILOA, 2016). After all, you give these assignments because you think they will help your students to achieve your learning outcomes. In this way, assignments are authentic artifacts of student learning. We naturally want good information about student learning to inform our actions towards improvement (NILOA, 2016; Walvoord, 2010).

Note that curriculum mapping allows us to assess program learning outcomes indirectly through direct assessment of course learning outcomes; however, indirect assessment instruments refer to something else.

Indirect Measures

Indirect assessments, such as surveys and end-of-course evaluations ask students to reflect on or self-assess their learning rather than demonstrate it. They are a proxy of what students have learned and supplement direct measures of learning by providing information about how and why learning is occurring.

Both direct and indirect measures of student learning can be used at the course, program, and institutional levels: