ASSESSMENT DEFINITIONS AND GUIDELINES
Each program or unit participating in the assessment process uses an outcome based approach. Academic programs use student learning outcomes as the basis for their assessment program while non-academic units may use a combination of non-student learning outcomes and student learning outcomes.
Student learning outcomes should describe what the students will know or be able to do and should be stated using action verbs as described in Bloom's taxonomy. Clearly written student learning outcomes articulate faculty or staff expectations about what knowledge is to be learned and what skills, attitudes, and behaviors are to be developed by students involved in the program or unit. Student learning outcomes should be meaningful, measurable, and aligned with the mission of the unit, the mission of the university, the core values of the university, and possibly the current strategic plan and the core components of the Higher Learning Commission's (HLC) criteria for accreditation. Some student learning outcomes may be aligned with general education student learning outcomes.
Non-academic units may have outcomes relating to student/client satisfaction, student engagement, and unit performance. Outcomes should not be phrased in terms of what activities the unit is engaged in, but rather in terms of the desired outcomes of the unit. As with student learning outcomes, outcomes from non-academic units should be meaningful, measurable, and aligned, when appropriate, to the mission of the unit, the mission of the university, the core values of the university, the current strategic plan, and the components of the HLC's criteria for accreditation.
Academic programs should develop a curriculum map to ensure that students are given the opportunity to develop competence in program-level student learning outcomes in core courses. Student learning outcomes can be (1) not covered in a core course; (2) introduced in a core course; (3) reinforced in a core course; or (4) mastered in a core course. Curriculum mapping ensures that all student learning outcomes are aligned with the core courses in the academic program. A curriculum map may identify, for example, that some outcomes are not adequately supported by the core courses or that some core courses are not aligned with any student learning outcomes. Curriculum mapping may lead programs to either refine program student learning outcomes or to reexamine which courses are required as core courses in the program.
Each outcome should be assessed using at least one assessment measurement. Academic programs should have direct measures of student learning outcomes. Direct measures are those that result in a direct examination of the student’s work or performance. Examples of direct measures include standardized tests, licensure exams, portfolio artifacts showing students work, presentations, locally developed tests or embedded test questions, written assignments, performances, etc. When deciding which measurement best assesses the student learning outcome, consideration should be given to the expected skill level of the student, the reliability and validity of the instrument, and motivation of the student to do well on the assessment measure. For assessment measures such as papers, presentations, essays, performance, portfolio artifacts, etc., a rubric should be utilized to ensure consistency in the data collection associated with the student learning outcome.
Indirect measures are those that ask students or clients how much they have learned, what they have learned, or how satisfied they are with the program. Indirect measures are more likely to be used by non-academic programs although some academic programs may use indirect measures in addition to direct measures. An administrative measure is a method which gauges unit effectiveness in non-learning areas.
Multiple measures for each outcome provide more reliable and meaningful information. It is important to remember that for student learning outcomes, student grades and course averages are measures of individual student performance in a class or an assignment and are not a measurement of a specific student learning outcome. Non-academic units are more likely to have one measure per outcome. For academic units, three direct measures of different types per student learning outcome is ideal; however, depending on the structure of the academic program, not every academic program will be able to have three direct measures per outcome.
Benchmarks and Achievement Targets
For each assessment measurement, the program faculty or unit staff should use their professional judgment to determine both a benchmark for satisfactory performance and an achievement target for the program. The benchmark refers to the performance level that indicates an acceptable level for the individual student’s level of performance. For example, for artifacts graded by a rubric, a student should be scoring at the “Satisfactory” level or above. For a standardized test, the benchmark might be a specific score (240 or above) or tied to the national mean (scoring at or above 1 standard deviation below the national mean or comparison group mean). For locally developed tests or exam questions, a determination should be made as to how many questions that are tied to the student learning outcome should be correctly answered (e.g. 7 out of 10 questions will be correctly answered). For indirect measures, the benchmark might be how many items the student or client marked as satisfactory or higher on a Likert scale.
An achievement target is the percent of students expected to score at or above the benchmark. While the benchmark is the expectation for an individual student’s performance, the achievement target is tied to the overall performance of all of the students. Achievement targets should be given in terms of the percentage of students that are assessed as the number of students may vary from one application of the assessment measure to another. Program faculty and unit staff need to use their professional judgment to determine what percentage of students should be scoring at the benchmark or higher.
Once established, benchmarks and achievement targets should not vary from one assessment cycle to the next.
Data Collection and Analysis (Findings and analysis of findings)
Data from each assessment instrument should be collected systematically and consistently. Depending on the size of the population, either all students can be assessed or a sample of students can be assessed. If a sample is being used, care should be given to minimize biases (only collecting data in the Fall, only collecting data from honors courses, only collecting data from day-time courses, only collecting data from traditional courses, etc.) Data collection should ensure that every student has a chance of being chosen.
Once data has been collected, data should be analyzed and discussed with appropriate faculty and staff. Data analysis should help identify strengths and weaknesses in the program or unit and should form the basis of discussion of course, program, or unit modifications. For the appropriate cycle, it should be determined if the achievement target was “met” or “not met.”
When displaying data, tables and graphs should be used. When possible, it is informative to compare student performance in relation to data from previous years or, if applicable, to national, regional, or state norms. Trend analysis should be made with at least three data points.
Action items and action Plans
Action items should describe new activities or changes that will be implemented and should not describe the current status quo. Action item activities should have a projected completion date and whether or not any additional resources are needed. Action items may be driven by analysis of the data, especially when an achievement target is not met, or may be a result of discussions among the faculty staff, accreditation requirements, or other external forces.
The development and implementation of action items resulting from collected data tied to outcomes is commonly referred to as “closing the loop.” Especially when the data collected indicates that an achievement target is not being met, faculty and staff should have discussions on what modifications can be made to help individuals meet the benchmark. For academic programs, action items tied to specific student learning outcomes might be focused on a particular course (re-ordering topics, changing how topics are presented, adding more emphasis to a topic), on the learning styles of the students and teaching methods (adding more activity-based assignments, adding group work, adding additional homework, providing more feedback to students on their work), on a sequence of courses (introducing a topic earlier in the program of study, reinforcing the topic in additional courses, adding a prerequisite or co-requisite to a course), or the actual program (removing core courses, adding core courses). For non-academic programs, action items tied to specific outcomes might be focused on changing office practices, changing procedures, or providing additional training for staff.