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Assessment 101

What is an assessment plan?
An assessment plan outlines the outcomes or objectives to be prioritized during the upcoming assessment cycle. Also included in the plan are the methods of collecting and analyzing data (called measures) and the specific level at which a program or unit considers their outcomes/objectives to be achieved on each measure (called targets).

Check out these glossaries for more assessment definitions:
What is the difference between CLOs, PLOs, and SLOs?
Course learning outcomes (CLOs) are measurable objectives within a particular course. These are presented to students on a course syllabus. Program learning outcomes (PLOs) are skills or competencies students are expected to be able to articulate or demonstrate by the time they graduate from the academic program (including certificate programs). Course Learning Outcomes are generally mapped to Program Learning Outcomes. A student learning outcome (SLO) is an umbrella term for all skills or competencies students are expected to articulate or demonstrate. SLOs are defined at multiple levels (e.g., course, program, institution, and system).

Check out the Center for Teaching Excellence's self-paced module on writing learning outcomes!


How are SLOs assessed?
The strongest assessment strategies employ both direct and indirect measures. Direct measures require students to demonstrate or display their competency in a way that can be measured for quality. Examples of direct measures include written assignments, oral presentations, or other assignments evaluated for measurable quality. Indirect measures provide secondhand information about student learning outcomes. Examples of indirect measures include student course evaluations, surveys, or broad metrics such as course grades and completion of degree requirements. The results derived from these measures are jointly used to determine actions or interventions that might help improve student learning.

How can I learn more about assessment? 

Writing Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs)

PLOs, specifically, capture the knowledge and/or skills a graduate of the academic program is expected to have and/or be able to demonstrate. A strong PLO is simple, specific, clearly written, and is appropriate to the level at which the knowledge or skill is being taught.

Consider the following when writing PLOs:

  1. Use action words. Higher order verbs such as those found in Bloom's Taxonomy help define specific expectations for how students will demonstrate their learning. 
  2. Keep it simple. PLO statements that include multiple skills or topics of knowledge are often difficult to measure completely. PLOs focused on just one or two (and no more than three) skills or topics are easier to measure comprehensively.
  3. Make it discipline-specific. Strong PLO statements clearly indicate what the skill looks like within the context of the discipline. E.g., Students will demonstrate research skills  vs. Students will apply basic research methods in psychology, including research design, data analysis, and interpretation.
  4. Avoid abstract or unobservable "skills." PLOs related to students' beliefs, values, or attitudes are not directly measurable. E.g., Students will appreciate a culture other their own.

Examples of strong PLOs:

  • Students will identify environmental problems and develop science-based solutions.
  • Students will apply knowledge of language processes across interpersonal and intrapersonal contexts.
  • Students will demonstrate a proficiency in the fundamental concepts in each of the major areas of physics.
  • Students will plan and organize units of instruction for topics in agriculture.


Measures of Student Learning

A measure is the process by which data is collected and evaluated to determine whether students are achieving learning outcomes. There are two types of measures:  direct and indirect.

Direct measures require students to demonstrate their competency or ability in some way that is evaluated for measurable quality by an expert, such as an instructor, internship supervisor, or industry representative.

Indirect measures provide secondhand information about student learning. Whereas direct measures are concerned with the quality of student work as it demonstrates learning, indirect measures are indicators that students are probably learning. Often, indirect measures are too broad to represent achievement of specific learning outcomes.
Indirect measures may provide useful supplemental information about student learning, but the focus of learning outcomes assessment should be on the use of direct measurement strategies. 

Examples of Direct Measures:
  • Written assignments, oral presentations, or portfolios of student work to which a rubric or other detailed criteria are applied
  • Exam questions focused on a particular learning outcome
  • Scores on standardized exams (e.g., licensure, certification, or subject area tests)
  • Employer or internship supervisor ratings of student performance
  • Other assignment grades based on detailed criteria

Examples of Indirect Measures: 
  • Tasks tracked by recording completion or participation rates
  • Completion of degree requirements
  • Number of students who publish manuscripts or give conference presentations
  • Survey questions students answer about their own perception of their abilities
  • Job placement data
  • Course grades and some comprehensive exam grades (i.e., broad exams that cover a variety of learning outcomes)
  • GPAs
  • Course enrollment data