Academic assessment is a systematic process for clearly defining expected student learning outcomes, gathering direct measurement data on whether these outcomes are being achieved, and using this data to improve student learning related to these outcomes.
An action plan is a strategy for improving student learning based on an analysis of academic assessment data. Action plans differ in size and focus and are designed to improve student achievement of identified student learning outcomes. Examples of student learning focused action plans can range from such activities as modifying an existing course activity or lesson to creating a new course activity or lesson to expanding the amount of focus placed upon particular topics within a particular course or set of courses to creating a new course to revising the program degree’s overall curriculum.
A benchmark is a comparison standard by which performance can be measured. Benchmarks can be against internal standards such as year-over-year comparisons or can be external such as comparisons against performance at peer institutions or on state or national standardized examinations.
A curriculum map is a tool for evaluating and documenting how a given curriculum supports an identified set of student learning outcomes. A well-designed curriculum map shows for each outcome where students are first introduced to the curriculum related to the outcome, where students develop their proficiencies related to the outcome, and where students are expected to master the outcome. Master means that students meet or exceed the targets set for the measure or measures that assess the outcome. Hence, mastery may occur at different levels depending on the expected student learning outcome. For example, mastery at a course level would typically be at a lower expectation level than mastery at an undergraduate program level which would in turn be at a lower level than mastery at a graduate program level.
Direct measures are evaluations of actual products of student work based only on criteria directly related to the student learning outcome being assessed. Most typical coursework such as papers, portfolios, presentations, projects, internship activities, etc. can be direct measures if a rubric/evaluation tool is used that allows assessors to evaluate only the criteria of the assignment that are directly related to the student learning outcome being evaluated. This can be done through the use of rubrics for subjective assignments such as papers, presentations, and internship evaluations and through alignment grids for objective assignments such as multiple-choice examination questions. Note that overall paper or presentation grades or course grades are typically not useful by themselves as direct measures because these grades typically encompass many grading elements beyond just those criteria directly related to the student learning outcomes being assessed.
A finding is the data gathered on student performance using a measure.
Formative assessment assesses developmental progress at points along a path towards more long-term outcomes. As such, formative assessment can be a very valuable assessment tool for providing earlier identification for points of student learning intervention and for making more responsive and targeted action plans for student learning improvement.
Goals are the overarching, holistic foci that the program outcomes are collectively working towards. Goals are not designed to be measured but instead reflect the intended results if all the measured outcomes are met. As such, goals serve an important role as they shape and guide outcomes by defining the overall long-term intentions of a program.
Indirect measures are measures that do not evaluate actual products of student work related to the student learning outcome being assessed. A typical example of an indirect measure would be a survey of student or faculty attitudes about different aspects of the learning environment. Indirect measures can provide useful insights into student or faculty perceptions of the learning environment. However, given that perceptions may not be accurate, indirect measures should be considered an additive element of academic assessment of student learning outcomes – they may be used in conjunction with direct measures but not in place of direct measures for evaluating student learning outcomes.
A measure is a means for gathering data to determine if an outcome has been achieved.
Student Learning Outcomes
Student learning outcomes are the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes students are expected to achieve through participating in a course, activity, or program.
Summative assessment assesses student achievement of student learning outcomes at the end of a designated path of study. As such, summative assessment can be a very valuable assessment tool for holistically evaluating if student learning outcomes are being met. This can provide very useful insights for creating action plans for student learning improvement across the path of study.
A sustainability map provides a multi-year plan for conducting assessment evaluation. It provides clear guidance on which outcomes are being assessed on a year-by-year basis. This provides a blueprint for maintaining an environment of continuous improvement by ensuring consistent engagement with assessment practices.
A target defines the standard for determining if the results of a measure meet the defined expectations for the outcome being assessed. If a target is not met then an action plan for improvement should be created and implemented.
Triangulation is assessing a student learning outcome using two or more direct measures. Triangulation is a valuable assessment tool as using multiple measures to evaluate an outcome allows us to verify the results of any given measure. Importantly, triangulation also provides us with multiple sources of data which allows us greater ability to create effective action plans for student learning improvement.