Advances in Physiology Education

Classroom Assessment Techniques. Thomas Angelo and K. Patricia Cross. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1993.

C. Joanne Holladay

Most college faculty approach their own research with a critical eye. But when it comes to assessing what is going on in their own classes, their feedback may be limited to a somewhat subjective sense of how the class is going, along with student grades, and end of the semester evaluations. Why not take a more systematic approach to answering the whys and hows of student learning? Classroom assessment techniques, or CATs, provide this opportunity.

In Classroom Assessment Techniques, the authors provide a rationale and description of the classroom assessment process. The process attempts to answer two fundamental questions: 1) how well are my students learning? and 2) how effectively am I teaching? These questions are answered through observing, getting feedback, interpreting this feedback, and then using the results to improve student learning. As such, it is formative, specific to the class, and ongoing. Angelo and Cross provide background, rationale, and 50 specific examples of classroom assessment techniques that can be administered either in or outside of class. Examples of successful projects are included, along with discussions of how the implementation of the CATs informed changes in the class.

What is a CAT? The bulk of this book is devoted to illustrating techniques, with descriptions and step-by-step instructions. They range from the simple, “The Minute Paper” (what is the most important thing you learned during this class?) or “The Muddiest Point” (what was the most confusing thing we discussed today?) to the more complex. CATs can provide information on a variety of learning-related questions: Do students have the background needed to understand this material? What did they think of the group work that I asked them to do last week? Were my examples in class today meaningful? Are they aware of the significance of this issue in history? Are they doing the assigned reading and getting what is important from it?

Classroom Assessment Techniques is a sourcebook of ideas, providing an approach based on research, a wide variety of techniques, and, best of all for busy faculty, practical information on how simple or complex each assessment technique is. The 50 CATs are also indexed by discipline, on the basis of feedback that the authors have received from those “in the field.” Ultimately, the greatest benefit of CATs is that they are designed to be part of a feedback loop that can become an integral part of your teaching. For CATs to be effective, you must report the results and your interpretations back to the students. As a result, you open a dialogue with students about the teaching and learning process, motivating them to be more actively engaged and motivating yourself to think more consciously of how you teach.


This review was written for the University of Texas Center for Teaching Effectiveness newsletter, The Teaching Network, Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall 2001.