What is learning outcomes assessment?
How is assessment different from grading?
Does learning outcomes assessment infringe on the academic freedom of faculty?
What is the difference between direct and indirect evidence?
Who is responsible for conducting program level assessment?
How does testing fit into an assessment plan?
What is the difference between student learning goals, objectives and outcomes?
Why is it important for a syllabus to include course objectives? Shouldn't this already be understood by students?
Where can I find examples of student learning outcomes in my discipline?
Why is Middle States so concerned about assessment?
 

What is learning outcomes assessment?

Below are some definitions that have been put forward by leading experts:

“Assessment is the systematic collection of information about student learning, using the time, knowledge, expertise, and resources available, in order to inform decisions about how to improve learning.” (Walvoord, 2004)

“Assessment is the systematic basis for making inferences about the learning and development of students.  It is the process of defining, selecting, designing, collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and using information to increase students’ learning and development.” (Erwin, 1991)

“Assessment is the systematic collection review and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development.” (Palomba and Banta, 1999)

How is assessment different from grading?

Simply put grading is about measuring the performance of an individual student against multiple course or program expectations. Student Learning Outcomes Assessment involves comparing the performance of a group of students usually (but not always) at or near the end of their program of study against program outcomes. The information gathered from student learning assessment is not linked to individually identifiable students. It provides information about to what degree the graduates of a program are achieving the desired level of skills, knowledge, and dispositions.    

This is not to say that grades do not have a place in learning outcomes assessment.  According to Linda Suskie of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, “Grades can be useful evidence of student learning if the grades are based on direct evidence of student learning (tests, projects, papers, assignments, etc.) that is clearly linked to major learning goals and clearly delineated, consistent with standards through test blueprints or rubrics.”

For more a detailed explanation of grading, click on the following article from Carnegie Mellon University - Grading vs. Assessment of Learning Outcomes: What’s the difference?

Does learning outcomes assessment infringe on the academic freedom of faculty?

No.  Student Learning Outcomes Assessment does not mean that anyone other than the faculty in a particular program will impose any requirement that they teach particular content or skills. Nor does it mean that the results of student learning outcomes assessment will have any influence on tenure and promotion as well done outcomes assessment is not linked to particular professors. Good assessment practice, as well as college policy, prohibits outcomes assessment results from being used in the promotion/tenure process        

According to Middle States, “Assessment of student learning is not a means of decreasing the autonomy of faculty members.  It is a means of increasing the mutual engagement of faculty members, staff, and students in providing an optimal learning experience.”  According to Barbara Walvoord, a leading expert on assessment in higher education, “Assessment rightly conducted does not ask faculty to repress their knowledge or judgments.  Rather, it asks faculty to work together as colleagues to assess student work. fairly by criteria respected in the field and to share their knowledge of student strengths and weaknesses, in order to improve curriculum, pedagogy, and other factors that affect learning.”

What is the difference between direct and indirect evidence?

Direct evidence is clear, tangible evidence that students have or have not learned.  Examples include scores on licensure/certification exams, capstone experiences using a rubric, portfolios, etc.

Indirect evidence, on the other hand, provides signs that students are likely learning, but the proof that they are learning is not as clear or convincing.  Examples include: course grades, survey results, test scores unaccompanied by a rubric, student evaluations, etc.

Who is responsible for conducting program level assessment?

Program level assessment is the responsibility of the faculty in the majors or programs being assessed.  The assessment coordinator and the Assessment Council will provide their support and lend their expertise when needed.

How does testing fit into an assessment plan?

Testing clearly has an important role in assessing student performance, but it is not the only assessment tool.  For additional information on testing, click on the following link from Ball State University and reference Chapter 7.

What is the difference between student learning goals, objectives and outcomes?

Student learning goals are broad statement of desired outcomes – what we hope students will know and be able to do as a result of completing the program/course.  Objectives are clear, brief statements used to describe specific measurable actions or tasks that learners will be able to perform at the conclusion of instructional activities.  Learning outcomes are learning results – the end results -- the knowledge, skills, attitudes and habits of mind that students have or have not taken with them as a result of the students’ experience in the course(s) or program.

Why is it important for a syllabus to include course objectives? Shouldn't this already be understood by students?

Having clear learning objectives on syllabi help both students and instructors.   For students, learning objective helps them know exactly what the expectations are upfront so they know what to do and how they will be evaluated.   From the instructor’s viewpoint, it helps him/her focus assignments to meet the objectives of the course.  They also aid in evaluating student work.

Where can I find examples of student learning outcomes in my discipline?

Examples of student learning outcomes can be found by searching the Internet for assessment resources in your discipline.  Additional sources of learning outcomes may be found by consulting the professional societies and accrediting agencies listed on this website.

Why is Middle States so concerned about assessment?

Voluntary accreditation via peer review is the primary mechanism used to ensure quality in higher education in the United States. Middle States, through adherence to high standards for student learning outcomes and operational behavior, seeks to assure higher education’s publics that its accredited institutions are fulfilling their stated purposes and addressing the publics’ expectations.

In recent years, calls by the public for accountability and transparency in higher education have increased due to continued cost escalation and a perception by many that college graduates are poorly prepared to enter the workforce.  Middle States and the other regional accredited bodies have employ accreditation via peer review, as it empowers faculty, in contrast to the top-down approach discussed by the federal government in the No Child Left Behind legislation at the K-12 levels.

These FAQs were adapted from Lehman College, CUNY.