It is important to
understand the distinction between direct and indirect evidence of student
Direct evidence of
student learning is tangible, visible, and measureable and tends to be more
compelling evidence of exactly what students have and have not learned.
This is because you can directly look at students’ work or performances to determine what
Indirect evidence tends to be composed of proxy signs that
students are probably learning. An
example of indirect evidence is a survey asking students to self-report what
they have learned. This is evidence that
students probably are learning what they report to have learned, but is not as
compelling as a faculty member actually looking at students’ work. It is not uncommon in students’ self-reports
to either inflate or undervalue what they have actually learned.
Distinguishing Between Direct and Indirect Assessment
While it is easy to distinguish between what is direct
evidence of student learning and what is indirect, some evidence of learning is
less clear. For example, peer reviews of
student work. While students are
actually submitting work to demonstrate what they have learned, a faculty
member may not ever see this work or have an opportunity to evaluate it. Would this be an example of direct or
indirect evidence? There are a few considerations
that can be helpful in determining whether an assessment is direct or indirect evidence of student
1. Does the assessment measure the learning or is
it a proxy for learning?
Direct Evidence: Students have
completed some work or product that demonstrates they have achieved the
learning outcome. Examples: project, paper, performance
Indirect Evidence: A proxy measure
was used, such as participation in a learning activity, students’ opinions
about what was learned, student satisfaction, etc. Examples: teaching evaluations, surveys asking
students how much they think they learned, course grades
2. Who decides what was learned or how well it was learned?
Direct Assessment: a professional
makes a decision regarding what a student learned and how well it was learned. Examples: faculty evaluated papers, tests, or
Indirect Assessment: the student
decides what he or she learned and how well it was learned. Examples: surveys, teaching evaluations
Frequently Asked Questions
How are grades indirect measurement of student learning outcomes?
Course grades are based on many iterations of direct
measurement. But grades are an indirect measurement of any
one course learning outcome because:
- They represent a combination of course learning
outcomes; performance on these outcomes
are averaged out in a final grade
- They frequently include corrections not related
to learning outcomes, such as extra credit or penalties for unexcused absences.
When should direct assessment be used?
Direct assessment is the most effective form of assessment
when you are measuring a single learning outcome, objective, or goal. This type of assessment gives you the most clear, compelling, and actionable information when determining, for example, how well your students are developing their writing skills, abilities to reflect critically, or integrate theory into practice.
Is it ever appropriate to use indirect assessment?
Yes. Indirect assessment provides valuable information and is an appropriate and valid form of assessment. A few examples of when
indirect assessment is particularly valuable:
- As a complement to direct assessment
methods. Indirect assessment is often an extremely useful tool in combination with direct assessment to offer a more comprehensive view of student learning. Direct assessment may tell you what students learned and how well they learned it, but indirect assessment can give you information about how a student feels about what they know – for example, does that student feel confident in his or her ability to apply the knowledge in the future?
- In program or curriculum review. Indirect assessment provides valuable insight and feedback of students’ views of what they are learning, how programs and services are administered, etc.
- Peer review of student work. Although peer review is indirect assessment,
it is often a useful teaching and learning tool.