Book Review of Angelo and Cross’s Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

Angelo, T.A., & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, California: Jossey Bass.

By illustrating practical techniques for college faculty to use to assess their teaching and their students’ learning across different disciplines, Angelo and Cross provide the necessary tools to improve and enhance our understanding of the effectiveness and perceptions of our teaching and learning. As well-renowned nationally recognized scholars, educators, and consultants that focuses on issues of classroom assessment, learning, and teaching, Angelo and Cross’s Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teaching spans across several disciplines of higher education to answer two fundamental questions (i.e., how well are students learning and how effectively are teachers teaching) and to develop and disseminate classroom research in an effort to bring the benefits of assessment and educational research into the classroom and under the control of faculty members. Although this text it may appear to be outdated, it is a comprehensive and practical handbook that addresses college faculty’s questions and concerns about classroom research and classroom assessment to facilitate better learning and more effective teaching. Throughout the text, Angelo and Cross purposefully and successfully navigate through the complex narrative of assessment that is full of pedagogical nuances to control how the reader is self-reflective and self-evaluative of their own teaching. The way the authors consolidate the information, research, and techniques within the text is simplified and easily digested in order to maintain the handbook’s practicality. To do this, the authors designed the structure of the handbook in a manner that carefully constructs examples, guides, tips, strategies, techniques to offer college faculty with varied levels of experience with classroom assessment and research a dynamic reference for evaluating their own teaching and their student’s learning based on discipline-based teaching goals and priorities that are significantly related to the subject matter.

When teaching goals and student learning are properly identified and evaluated through assessment techniques, a student’s true potential to learn and a professor’s optimal potential to teach as a learner themselves is exposed and maximized. Angelo and Cross’ purpose of offering practical techniques to help college faculty identify, transform, and enhance their teaching illuminates that importance of balancing assessment, evaluation, and active learning to produce effective and impactful teaching and student learning. The handbook is structured along three parts that allows the reader to progress through the book in a non-linear fashion based on what is useful and appeals to their personal teaching goals and particular field of study. Part One: Getting Started in Classroom Assessment serves as both an introduction to the foundations of classroom assessment for new or inexperienced college faculty and a comprehensive review of assessment for more experienced college faculty. Moreover, Part Two: Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) presents and explores a compilation of fifty practical classroom assessment techniques college faculty can implement to increase student’s knowledge and skills, reaction to instruction, and their attitudes, values, and self-awareness as learners. Thus, increasing students’ motivation, promote active learning, sense of community, and their ability to learn holistically. Last, Part Three: Building on What We Have Learned reflects and reviews the content of the handbook and the knowledge and lessons learned by the authors to suggest new directions in classroom assessment and research.

Similar to my review of Barkley’s Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, this review will focus more on the practical ideas and techniques that resonate and align with my teaching philosophy that are informed by my personal teaching goals and desired outcome for my student’s learning. The “classroom assessment approach” discussion at the beginning of the book was very thought-provoking as it made me started to ask myself about what I am learning as a student and how well I am learning and understanding the knowledge that is being presented to me. The indication that the approach should be learner-centered, teacher-directed, mutually beneficial, formative, context-specific, ongoing, and firmly rooted in good practice rally made me think about the idea of holistic student learning through various forms of teaching. Moreover, this made me reflect on my own teaching and learning moments and I realized that throughout these experiences I have recognized that they were learner-centered, mutually beneficial, formative, and ongoing. When reflecting on this approach in relation to my own teaching goals and desires for student learning, an assessment of a student’s holistic might not be context-specific or teacher-directed. Even though this approach made me think about other forms of teaching, the handbook doesn’t account for learning and teaching that takes place outside the classroom by other individuals that students and teachers interact with. This lack of awareness for teaching and learning that occurs outside the classroom offers a counter to the idea that assessment is ongoing since it doesn’t address situational contexts. Moreover, this point makes me think about a point that I stressed in my other reviews that administrators want student to learn, but this learning and teaching takes on a different form than the one in the classroom, but the outcome of this teaching is the same in that the goal is to ensure students are holistically developing and learning from their experiences whether inside or outside of the classroom.

Within the “assumptions of classroom assessment” discussion, I became intrigued by this idea of assessment being founded on seven core assumptions that build upon one another to guide both teachers and students through this process of teaching and learning that is linked to assessment and evaluations. In emphasizing the assumptions of classroom assessment, there were three assumptions that build upon one another to help me reflect on the duality and intersectionality of teaching and student leaning. The first (i.e. the quality of student learning is directly, although not exclusively, related to the quality of teaching. Therefore, one of the most promising ways to improve learning is to improve teaching), second (i.e., to improve their effectiveness, teachers need first to make their goals and objectives explicit and then to get specific, comprehensible feedback on the extent to which they are achieving those goals and objectives), and third assumption (i.e., to improve their learning, students need to receive appropriate and focused feedback early and often; they also need to learn how to assess their own learning) represent the intersectionality, duality, and fluidity of teaching and learning as both the student and the teacher occupy the same roles within different contexts and dependent upon one another to maximize the effectiveness of each other’s own learning and assessment of this learning and newly acquired knowledge. Moreover, these assumptions did not just resonate with me because they address the duality and intersectionality of teaching and learning, but rather they present a formative assessment framework for assessing active leaning, collaborative learning, co-constructed knowledge, and transformative learning within a critical learning environment to encourage and emphasize the balance between learning and performance within particular situations, environments, and contexts.

I found that the following “successful classroom projects” resonated with several of my stated outcomes and goals within my teaching philosophy as both a tutor and as an administrator. Moreover, these projects reflected how I have seen myself “close the feedback loop” in my own experiences with being both a teacher and a learner by being learner-centered, mutually beneficial, holistic, formative, context-specific, ongoing, and integrated within the teaching and learning process. Additionally, these practices made me realize certain foci and teaching goals that resonated with my own ideals on teaching and learning.

  • Assessing Students’ Prior Knowledge
    • Focuses on assessing prior knowledge, recall and understanding
      • Teaching Goal: to help students develop an informed historical perspective
  • Assessing Students’ Skill in Categorizing
    • Focuses on assessing skill in analysis and critical thinking
      • Teaching Goal: to help students develop an ability to distinguish between facts and opinions
  • Assessing Students’ Skill in Applying What They Have Learned
    • Focuses on assessing skill in application and performance
      • Teaching Goal: to help students develop an ability to apply principles and generalizations already learned to new problems and situations
  • Assessing Students’ Awareness of Their Own Values
    • Focuses on assessing students’ awareness of their attitudes and values
      • Teaching Goal: to help students develop their capacity to make informed ethical choices
  • Assessing Students’ Awareness of Learning Goals
    • Focuses on assessing students’ self-awareness as learners
      • Teaching Goal: to help students develop a commitment to their own values
  • Assessing Learners Reactions to New Approaches to Teaching and Learning
    • Focuses on assessing learner reactions to teachers and teaching
      • Teaching Goal: to help students develop appropriate learning skills, strategies, and habits

I found that the following classroom assessment techniques (CATs) resonated with several key tenets of my teaching philosophy (i.e., holistic development and learning, deep learning, critical learning, meaningful learners) as both a tutor and as an administrator. Moreover, I found myself visualizing how I would use scaffolding to implement and integrate these techniques into the teaching and learning process.

  • Assessing Course-Related Knowledge and Skills
    • Prior Knowledge, Recall, and Understanding
      • Background Knowledge Probe
      • Misconception/Preconception Check
      • Minute Paper
    • Skill in Analysis and Critical Thinking
      • Defining Features Matrix
      • Pro and Con Grid
      • Content, Form, and Function Outlines
    • Skill in Synthesis and Creative Thinking
      • Concept Maps
    • Skill in Problem Solving
      • What’s the Principle?
    • Skill in Application and Performance
      • Directed Paraphrasing
      • Application Cards
      • Student-Generated Test Questions
  • Assessing Learner Attitudes, Values, and Self-Awareness
    • Students’ Awareness of Their Attitudes and Values
      • Classroom Opinion Polls
      • Everyday Ethical Dilemmas
      • Course-Related Self-Confidence Surveys
    • Students’ Self-Awareness as Learners
      • Interest/Knowledge/Skills Checklists
      • Goal Ranking and Matching
      • Self-Assessment of Ways of Learning
  • Assessing Learner Reactions to Instruction
    • Learner Reactions to Teachers and Teaching
      • Teacher-Designed Feedback Forms
      • Group Instructional Feedback Techniques
    • Learner reaction to Class Activities, Assignments, and Materials
      • Assignment Assessments
      • Exam Evaluations

After reading this handbook, there were two main takeaways that I found that were consistently present throughout my time reviewing this book. The two main takeaways were “closing the feedback loop” and having an approach that is formative, holistic, learner-centered, mutually beneficial, and ongoing. Moreover, the techniques and content that was discussed in this handbook resonated with me because of their applicability to not just teachers, but to other individuals who engage in teaching and learning within other domains. I found that the most attractive features of classroom assessment discussed in this handbook were focused on the techniques and concepts that were formative, focused on student learning, increases student motivation, and promotes active, critical, and meaningful learning. This handbook made me reflect on my own teaching philosophy about recognizing the different forms that teaching can take and how a simple teaching technique that stresses “closing the feedback loop” can promote a critical learning environment that facilitated co-constructed knowledge, supportive relationships, and active participation and motivation in learning and the process of learning itself.

While this book should prove to be valuable to a wide range of scholars (i.e., graduate students, faculty, administrators, and researchers), there are several contributions that could have been incorporated into this book. First, Angelo and Cross could have been more transparent and provided a more through discussion about the disadvantages and questions surrounding the use of CATs and classroom assessment. That is, it could have been helpful to college faculty if Angelo and Cross develop and presented more content about the gap between faculty and student perceptions of improved learning, the feeling that might arise within faculty about “covering less content” as a result of using CATs and classroom assessment, and the tendency for classroom assessment and CATs to raise more questions about student learning rather than answer them. Additionally, the handbook could have included a more extensive discussion on the advantages of the influence of CATs for individual students. Furthermore, Angelo and Cross could have included a visual student-centered and transformative learning. Moreover, the authors could have acknowledged and addressed student engagement and motivation within the classroom learning environments and experiences that have students with learning disabilities or low academic self-esteem. Last, similar to my reviews of Barkley’s Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty and Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do, this handbook could have benefited from an acknowledgement of the student’s role in investing energy in the co-creation of the learning environment and co-construction of knowledge within this environment is necessary and would be beneficial for the reader while progressing through the handbook.














One thought on “Book Review of Angelo and Cross’s Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)”

  1. Wow, what a review?! Your attention to detail is amazing. Here’s what stood out to me:

    “The “classroom assessment approach” discussion at the beginning of the book was very thought-provoking as it made me started to ask myself about what I am learning as a student and how well I am learning and understanding the knowledge that is being presented to me. ”
    – I did this too! One would think that this helps us as educators. However, I’m sometimes guilty of reverting back to what is more comfortable as a teacher. I also think we, at times, put ourselves in the students’ shoes in ways that we shouldn’t. I remember in class someone (I believe it was Kit) said that we’re not the same kind of students as our students. Long story short, I too had a similar mentality when reading this section.

    “Moreover, the authors could have acknowledged and addressed student engagement and motivation within the classroom learning environments and experiences that have students with learning disabilities or low academic self-esteem.”
    – Good point. I wouldn’t have thought of this.

    Again, great job!


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