National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment |

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Institute Occasional Paper 2:
Three Promising Alternatives for Assessing College Students' Knowledge and Skills


Banta, T. W., Griffin, M., Flateby, T. L., & Kahn, S. (2009, December). Three promising alternatives for assessing college students' knowledge and skills. (NILOA Occasional Paper No. 2). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.



Of the various ways to assess student learning outcomes, many faculty members prefer what are called “authentic” approaches that document student performance during or at the end of a course or program of study.  Authentic assessments typically ask students to generate rather than choose a response to demonstrate what they know and can do.  In their best form, such assessments are flexible and closely aligned with teaching and learning processes, and represent some of students more meaningful educational experiences.  In this paper, assessment experts Trudy Banta, Merilee Griffin, Theresa Flateby, and Susan Kahn describe the development of several promising authentic assessment approaches.  The contributors draw on their rich assessment experience to illustrate how portfolios, common analytic rubrics, and online assessment communities can more effectively link assessment practices to pedagogy.  In addition to discussing the strengths and limitations of each approach, the paper offers concrete examples of how these authentic approaches are being used to guide institutional improvement, respond to accountability questions, and involve more faculty, staff, and students in meaningful appraisals of learning outcomes. 

Paper Abstract

Educators and policy makers in postsecondary education are interested in assessment processes that improve student learning, and at the same time provide comparable data for the purpose of demonstrating accountability. This paper discusses three promising alternatives that afford authentic, information-rich, meaningful assessments that are essential for improving student learning, and at the same time provide reportable data for comparisons. First, ePortfolios provide an in-depth, long-term view of student achievement on a range of skills and abilities instead of a quick snapshot based on a single sample of learning outcomes. Second, a system of rubrics used to evaluate student writing and depth of learning has been combined with faculty learning and team assessments, and is now being used at multiple institutions. Third, online assessment communities link local faculty members in collaborative work to develop shared norms and teaching capacity, and then link local communities with each other in a growing system of assessment. These authentic and valid assessment approaches must be developed and promoted as viable alternatives to scores on single-sitting, snapshot measures of learning that do not capture the difficult and demanding intellectual skills that are the true aim of a college education.

Biographies of the Authors

Trudy W. Banta, Ph.D. is Professor of Higher Education and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor for Academic Planning and Evaluation at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. Recipient of 8 national awards for her work, she has developed and coordinated 22 national conferences and 15 international conferences on the topic of assessing quality in higher education. She has given addresses at conferences and/or consulted with faculty and administrators on colleges and university campuses in 47 states and 26 other countries. Dr.Banta has edited 16 published volumes on assessment, contributed 27 chapters to published works, and written more than 200 articles and reports, and is the founding editor of Assessment Update.


Merilee Griffin, Ph.D. is President of Collaborative Online Assessments (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to research and advancement of COA’s. She currently serves as Research Coordinator for the Tier I Writing Assessment Project at the Center for Writing in a Digital Environment at Michigan State University and consults on other projects.


Teresa L. Flateby, Ph.D. with over fifteen years of assessment experience, recently retired as the Director of Assessment at the University of South Florida (USF) to establish her own consulting firm.  She has facilitated numerous assessment workshops at the national level and has provided writing and thinking assessment consultation for a variety of higher education institutions.


Susan Kahn, Ph.D is Director of Institutional Effectiveness at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), leads the university’s electronic portfolio initiative, and holds adjunct faculty appointments in IUPUI’s University College and School of Liberal Arts.  She writes and presents widely on the use of ePortfolios for faculty, students, and institutions.




This paper was reprinted with NILOA permission in Diversity & Democracy, a periodical
published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Fall 2010.

It was also featured in the AIR E-newsletter in January 2010.

This paper was referenced in the Spring 2011 WEAVEOnline Newsletter.




"The Banta et al. Three Promising Alternatives piece is a model of clarity and a well made case for the importance of authentic assessment and ways of getting at it at the classroom, institutional, and inter-institutional levels."

Richard Hersh

Richard Hersh
Former President, Trinity College
Hobart and William Smith Colleges