Review: New Modes of Assessment

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By Michael Hunter Schwartz from Washburn University School of Law

Greg Sergienko, New Modes of Assessment, 38 San Diego Law Review 463 (2001) [Read fulltext. (1.7 MB PDF)] (Reprinted with permission of the publisher, San Diego Law Review, © 2001; reprint courtesy

In the last few years, discussions of assessment among legal educators increasing have become commonplace. But ten years ago, in 2001, Professor Greg Sergienko was ahead of the game in asking law professors to expand their repertoire of assessment tools. As he explains, “The purpose of this Article is to call attention to a variety of alternatives to [the traditional end-of-semester essay exam) that are more accurate and less burdensome . . .” His article is therefore a useful tool for any professor interested in improving her assessment practices.

The article begins with an excellent discussion of basic principles of assessment with which all law professors should be familiar, including the differences between formative and summative assessment, the three core pillars of good assessment practice – validity, reliability and practicality, and the differences between criterion-referenced and norm-referenced testing.

Professor Sergienko then offers a useful exposé of the limits of essay examinations. He explains that traditional essay exams often fail to assess the full range of substantive knowledge and skills taught in a course, are so burdensome to grade that they have limited value as formative assessment tools, and are difficult to grade consistently.

The remainder of his article therefore offers two alternatives: non-instructor evaluation and multiple-choice questions. While others also have offered both alternatives, what is particularly useful about Professor Sergienko’s article are his ideas for using peer assessment, for incentivizing accurate self-assessment, and, most importantly, for designing multiple choice questions that isolate particular skills.

This latter contribution requires additional explanation. First, Professor Sergienko argues convincingly that multiple choice questions can be used to assess skills. He then carefully explains and demonstrates how to do so. In the course of this explanation, he pushes law professors to expand their understanding of the skills that multiple choice questions can assess. He demonstrates that, in addition to assessing rule application skills, multiple choice questions can assess case reading skills, rule reading skills, and factual identification and analysis skills.

This information, according to Professor Sergienko, “can promote student learning by telling students what they have not yet learned and telling instructors what instruction is effective.”

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