The Educational Art of Assessment

The Educational Art of Assessment

Art museums. Quiet venues designed for the imagination.  Places of inquiry that give you a glimpse into an artist’s creative mind.

Have you ever been to an exhibit and been captivated by the lines, shapes, forms, spacing, textures, colors, or value of the artwork?  When combined with a specific vantage point, history, or story, art appreciation comes into focus. 

However, not everyone appreciates art. Many can shy away from these visual masterpieces due to an uninformed perception or a lack of understanding regarding arts’ purpose. This can impact the ability of the artist to communicate ideas, generate emotion, explore perceptions, create a sense of beauty, or provide a space for learning.

Similarly, there are those like Gilbert (2009) who do not “see” assessment as yielding tangible impacts on education or student learning (e.g., critical thinking).  Conversely, Banta and Palomba (2014) contend that on most campuses the process of assessment is recognized as a contributor to improved teaching and learning with its greatest benefit being the fostering of academic introspection, framed within the concept of reflection. Claims by assessment naysayers suggesting assessment is a waste of time serve to emphasize the need for greater appreciation of this educational art form and how the assessment process assists faculty and staff in facilitation of student learning and continuous improvement.

Assessment Appreciation 101

For one to have a true appreciation for assessment, it must be understood that “assessment is more than the collection of data” (Banta & Palomba, 2014).  Just like an artist, the assessor must be inspirationally intentional, holistic in clarifying goals, and purposeful when examining the results. Thus, the importance of inspiring creative thinking (artistic learning outcome) is synonymous with the importance of inspiring critical thinking (assessment learning outcome).  Why? Since being a critical thinker requires creativity and creativity requires critical thinking, regardless of one’s field of study, career choice and ultimately their vocation.  Hence, assessment, like art itself, is vital to our culture.

Can Assessment Be Artistic?

The answer, I believe, is absolutely. Assessment incorporates similar aspects of the art world, with the goal of determining effectiveness of curriculum (academic and co-curricular), program activities, and strategic initiatives.  The process of assessment provides assurance to our business/industry partners, the community, accrediting bodies, and, our most important stakeholders, our students. Assessment provides evidence of the art of education and student learning through interventions inside and outside the classroom, demonstrating contributions to a well-rounded masterpiece: the college graduate and/or credential seeking professional.

Assessment principles are comparable to knowing what art enables: an ability to describe what an artist has done [assessment plan], analysis of what is going on in a particular piece [student learning activities and the measured outcomes], and communication of findings using a common language [data reporting and closing the loop] (Esaak, 2018).  Let us look more closely at the similarities between art and assessment:


Works of Art (Creative Masterpieces)             →      Assessment (Education/Student Learning)

  • Imagination: picture, painting, or sculpture
  • Elements of Art: color, line, shape, or form
  • Exhibition: display, history and culture
  • Societal Response: perceptions, observations or reflection
  • Communication: extended exhibits, additional creativity, auction or purchase
  • Plan: identification of learning outcomes, objectives and goals
  • Design: activities and rubrics
  • Data: direct and indirect measures
  • Outcomes: findings and analysis
  • Communication: closing the loop, continuous improvement or change

There are similarities in parallel with the typical assessment cycle. Awareness and informing people may be the first step, with cultivating engagement and appreciation a next logical step.

The Art of Motivating a Love for Assessment

Ok, love might be a strong word for those who have negative feelings about art or assessment!  However, closing the gap between, “not a big fan” to “super enthusiast” is within the realm of possibility.  With a realistic expectation and understanding that the process will not happen overnight, the artist or assessment expert who is passionate about their craft can create opportunities to encourage engagement.  

If you are wondering how to pique the interest of the skeptic and novice, consider these tips from the article, How to Motivate Students to Love Art (Cox, n.d.), which I have translated into strategies for making assessment more appealing to institutional stakeholders:  

  • Encouraging a desire to learn:  I have found that faculty and staff who are unmotivated or view assessment as a “waste of time” may have this mindset because no one took the time to explain assessment’s importance. If they’re like me, (a “why” person), just telling me to do the activity does not produce good results.  
    • Tip: Consider facilitating a few Lunch and Learn sessions where folks can gain insight on the why, when, what and how of assessment.  
  • Make it relatable:  Remember that college course you disliked and skipped out on a few times during the term?  Now, think about the class you could not wait to attend.  What was the difference? Likely, it had something to with the manner in which the instructor brought the lecture/lab content to life!  Oftentimes subjects (e.g., art, assessment, math, science) become more interesting when the participants feel some sort of connectivity or relevance to their interests.  
    • Tip: As part of a small group professional development session, ask faculty and staff to model how they engage students during courses/activities and what they use.  By doing so, they become active participants in the assessment process using their interest (expertise) as a type of “show and tell” while also enabling others outside their respective area to learn and share concepts they may not have time to think about on their own.   
  • Create opportunities for and encourage betterment: How often do we attend professional development or training and get excited about something we learned, only to get back to our routines and forget what we promised ourselves to implement? Why might this occur? We can be neglecting the art of practice.  Everyone needs an opportunity to “do” the things we learn and simple encouragement to do so goes a long way.
    • Tip: Communicate to faculty and staff during the year to remind and encourage continuous improvement in all aspects of what they do is an easy way to empower betterment of assessment practice. Additionally, consider creating open lab sessions throughout the academic year where faculty and staff can drop in to gain insight from assessment champions and/or or collaborate with others to develop, update or report on  assessment related activities and outcomes.  
  • Encourage self-motivation (through assessment): Nothing is more motivating than putting your best work on display. Creating a culture that celebrates the great work that assessment produces is an awesome motivator.  
    • Tip: Consider establishing an assessment share fair where faculty staff and students can create posters or have round table sessions where they show off their best assessment efforts.  Such events are useful for generating new and innovative ideas and serve as a mechanism for enticing any naysayers to engage in assessment more than they may have in the past.
  • Practice unpredictable reinforcement: Feedback is a powerful motivator.  For those who have already created assessment masterpieces of their own or who are leaders in the art of assessment, providing feedback can be the key to progress.
    • Tip: Assessment champions and leaders might help facilitate practice simply by creating assessment checkpoints where they take 10 – 15 minutes to: informally review a faculty’s SLO revision; observe a class activity; or attend a program sponsored initiative in order to provide positive feedback and insight related to assessment activities.


Similar to the creation of themed-based art classes (for children and youth) or the popular, paint-and-sip nights (for adults), creative professional development sessions can assist and lead to greater appreciation for and effective implementation of assessment practices by even the greatest skeptics.  Remember, it takes time for individuals to embrace something they haven’t before and it’s no different with assessment.

Creating space for assessment appreciation requires those of us who have a passion for the art of assessment to be intentional (using the tips and strategies suggested). What creative strategies are you using to entice those who struggle with embracing the art of assessment?  Let us create a list of assessment art classes for our faculty and staff to attend and see how many assessment enthusiasts are created in the upcoming year!


Nanette Smith, Rhodes State College

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