Evaluating Learning

Assessing student learning connects directly to your stated Student Learning Outcomes, which define what you hope students will have learned by the end of the course. Determining how you will grade student work and provide meaningful feedback begins with defining your evaluation criteria. What do you value most in your course? Is the emphasis on, for example, critical thinking and analysis or on application of theory? What skills do you want students to develop? To what extent are you looking for creativity? Designing grading rubrics that clearly convey your goals to students will help ensure they understand how you will be assessing their work.

Redefining Feedback

1. Begin with your Student Learning Outcomes and then decide how you will assess them.

Student Learning Outcomes define what we hope students will learn in a course. These outcomes should be paired to assessments such as assignments, exams, quizzes and papers that let you know if students have learned the content and skills you have defined in your outcomes. For suggestions on how to make this linkage, see Take-Away #8 under “Identifying Student Learning Outcomes.”

2. Identify what is most important to you in evaluating student work.

For example, you may be looking at higher level thinking, creativity, shifts in perspective, accuracy, or logical thought. If public speaking is a skill that students need to learn in your course, you will want to assess that as well. Other examples might be teamwork, displaying innovation or creativity, or demonstrating precision and accuracy. In many courses, we want students to improve their writing skills.

3. Determine a percentage, point value, or other evaluative measure for each course assignment.

Once you have a list of the content areas and skills that are most important in your course and have linked Student Learning Outcomes to assessment, you can determine the relative value of each component. For example:

  • What percentage of the total course grade is based on written papers? On exams? Quizzes?
  • If the main assignment is a research paper, what percentage of the course grade does it represent?
  • In determining final grades, are you looking for progress from the start to the end of the semester or for ongoing performance throughout the semester?
  • Will you include ‘low stakes’ quizzes or assignments early on and designate a higher percentage to more complex work as the semester progresses?

4. Let students know if you are using the Canvas grading function.

Canvas provides an online grading function that makes it convenient for you to record grades for all components of your course. One advantage for students is that they can check their grades as the semester progresses.

5. Decide how you will define – and measure – class participation.

You can decide what counts as class participation and the number of points or percentage that it represents. Here are some things to consider when creating your system for evaluating class participation:

  • Attendance policies: What is an excused vs. unexcused absence? How are students expected to make up missed work? What are the consequences of excessive absences?
  • Turning work in on time and the consequences of late work
  • Expectations for student engagement in class discussions
  • Making use of office hours
  • Additional ways to demonstrate engagement with course content

The weight given to class participation will likely vary based on the type of course, Student Learning Outcomes, and grading system. For example, in courses that rely heavily on consistent participation (e.g., seminars, small classes, foreign language classes), class participation might be given more weight. In large classes, participations might be based largely on attendance or on turning in assignments on time.

6. Clearly explain to students your standards for letter grades.

What does it mean to earn an “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”, or “F” in your course? Refer to the syllabus guide for a suggested format for showing this.

7. Identify other course policies that can impact student grades, such as penalties for late work, availability of extra credit, or options to resubmit work.

Your course policies reflect your teaching philosophy and Student Learning Outcomes. There are many ways to create these expectations, depending especially on your course goals and teaching style.

8. Develop grading rubrics that lay out your expectations.

A grading rubric lays out the point or percentage value for each component of an assignment.

9. Share your grading rubrics with students as part of the assignment description.

By including your grading rubrics as part of an assignment or assessment, you provide students with a clear picture of what you expect and how their work will be assessed. Your comments and feedback can be written directly on the rubric which can also make the grading process more efficient.

Here is an example of a grading rubric that might accompany a journal-writing assignment:

Journal entries are graded based on the criteria below. Critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, and creativity are highly valued in this course.

Letter Grade Percentage Criteria:


95- 100%


  • well organized; free of grammatical errors or typos
  • well crafted and clear; facts and opinions are differentiated
  • there is a logical flow to your thinking
  • all parts of the prompt are addressed
  • readings are referenced by identifying the key thesis or theme and integrated into the discussion
  • paper exhibits creative thought, analysis, and synthesis






  • well organized with minimal grammatical errors or typos
  •  facts and opinions are not clearly differentiated
  • there is a logical flow to your thinking
  • most but not all parts of the prompt are addressed
  • readings are cited but not clearly integrated into the discussion
  • paper reflects a general command of the material with additional analysis and synthesis needed






  • poorly organized with numerous grammatical errors or typos
  •  facts and opinions are not differentiated
  • logical flow is lacking
  • many parts of the prompt are not addressed
  • readings are not cited nor integrated into the discussion
  • paper does not reflect a general command of the material
  • paper lacks analysis and/or synthesis

Your course policies reflect your teaching philosophy and Student Learning Outcomes. There are many ways to create these expectations, depending especially on your course goals and teaching style.

10. Draw upon resources available on how to create meaningful grading rubrics.

AAC&U has many options to choose from, and a quick online search will reveal many more.