The Role and Rigor of Self-Assessment in MakerEd (Part 2)


by Christa Flores -

The Role and Rigor of Self-Assessment in MakerEd (Part 2)

by Christa Flores


In part one of this blog, we discussed what self-assessment is, and the relevance of using alternative assessments in your MakerEd program or school wishing to usher in more student choice into the curriculum. In this blog, we will do a shallow review of what has been written about self-assessments. This will include work being done on the frontlines by teachers (blogs and articles), as well as published studies from academia about the efficacy of self-assessment. We will focus our discussion of efficacy on two parameters, accuracy and return for time invested.

How effective is Self-Assessment?

Giving a student a rubric and asking him to grade himself is a form of self-assessment. Expecting that student to be honest (remember grades can be high stakes) or to understand the rubric created by another person, brings to question not only the accuracy of this assessment tool but also the time payoff, especially when compared to quicker or traditional forms of assessment.  While rubrics are helpful and make the self-grading process appear more democratic. when not co-created with the student, rubrics may have inherent bias or erred perceptions of understanding built in to them. Studies done at Stanford in 2001 around self-assessment tools in medical school, confirmed that students were inaccurate at assessing their level of knowledge on a given subject (Dunning 2004).

Stories and studies that paint a positive light on self-assessment argue that the focus of these assessments should be formative, to avoid issues of disenfranchisement or inaccuracy (Andrade 2009). Formative assessment is process versus product centered as well as more authentic, or embedded into a student’s learning. As such, formative assessments foster a growth mindset and a safe space to give and hear critical feedback. The message of a formative assessment is that “we are all still learning.” Examples of formative assessments can be design or engineering logs that record diagnosis and design ideas, Maker portfolios or informal work shares for peer feedback.

Because formative assessment happens more than just at the end of a chapter or unit, they can be seen as too time consuming. The time used to do these assessments, some will argue, is a vital part of the learning and offers a deeper more holistic payoff compared to the quicker standardized test (MacDonald 2012). Furthermore, self-assessment was found to make students smarter and more motivated according to a 2012 study by Dr. Betty McDonald of the University of Trinidad and Tobago. MacDonald found that, “students of the experimental group (those who used self-assessment) were able to pinpoint their specific areas for improvement whilst those of the control group took no interest in determining ways for improvement.”

Thankfully self-assessment does not have to be based on content knowledge, nor does it have to be done in a vacuum to be effective. Developing assessment literacy does seem to be key to successful self and peer-assessment, however (Smith et. al. 2011). Combining forms of peer-assessment with self-assessments can help students gain this vital assessment literacy.

In an Edutopia article from 1997, a seventh and eighth grade math teacher using a design based math project, describes assessment literacy as follows, “We want (students) to be able to judge for themselves whether a piece of work is excellent or falls short of the school's standards. It may seem like a lot to ask of adolescents, but once we started using strategies such as critique circles and portfolios, students quickly showed they were willing and able to take more responsibility for the quality of their work.”

This idea of assessment literacy or quality, as relevant to one’s own education and experiences, is one that took time for me to trust. Especially after reading  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which dissects the idea of quality ad nauseum. In the end, once I realized quality was relative, collaborative and constructivist, I began to trust the process much more. Now, I ask students to pick out works of quality and to attempt to define the terms for themselves.

Three ideas that seem to point towards effective self-assessment are as follows:

  1. Using self-assessment to reach a letter grade that is more summative in nature versus formative can lead to inaccuracies, defeat the goal of the assessment, and give alternative assessments a bad name. Assessment needs to feel safe for students and that is possible when you practice a growth or “maker” mindset around work and assessment.

  2. Self-assessment can facilitate deeper learning, as it requires the student to play a more active role in the cause of their success and failures, as well as practice a critical look at quality.

  3. The role of peers and the sharing of work leads to a community wide assessment literacy that increases the accuracy of self-assessment, as well as the rewards of using alternative assessments.

The efficacy of self-assessment, as well as return for time spent, is reliant on two factors. First we must create a safe space for self and peer critique to occur by promoting process over product and a growth mindset. Second, we must collaboratively build assessment literacy. As with any kind of literacy, assessment literacy takes time and gets better with modeling and practice. Deeply dependent on collaboration and communication with peers, practicing assessment literacy together leads to more effective assessments, as well as a more democratic and engaging learning environment.


Up Next:

The Role and Rigor of Self-Assessment in MakerEd Part 3: Examples of Self-Assessment in Middle School and Engineering School




  1. Andrade, Heidi, and Anna Valtcheva. "Promoting Learning and Achievement Through Self-Assessment." Theory Into Practice 48.1 (2009): 12-19.
  2. Dunning, David, Chip Heath, and Jerry M. Suls. Flawed Self-assessment: Implications for Health, Education, and the Workplace. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.
  3. MacDonald, Betty (2012) "Self Assessment and Student Centered Learning” Online pdf
  4. McDonald, Betty. (2012) “Gestalt Effect of Self-Assessment” Online pdf
  5. Pahomov, Larissa (December 2014) What Meaningful Reflection On Student Work Can Do for Learning. Mindshift article
  6. Pirsig, Robert M. (1974) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: Morrow
  7. Smith, Calvin Douglas, Kate Worsfold, Lynda Davies, Ron Fisher, and Ruth Mcphail. "Assessment Literacy and Student Learning: The Case for Explicitly Developing Students ‘assessment Literacy’." Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (2011): 1-17.
  8. Yoshida, Clyde (1997) “Creating a Culture of Student Reflection: Self-Assessment Yields Positive Results” Edutopia article


Erin Riley's picture

Christa--great stuff to think about!  Quality is interesting in relationship to building confidence.  I've noticed student investment in their work really pays off in an environment where sharing with peers.  Can't wait for part 3 of this series!