Assessing Outcomes

Why Assess SLOs?

Setting goals for courses, programs, and student services is not a new idea to faculty; it is an integral part of teaching and working in academic institutions. Faculty providing student service have a history of assessing their services, and soliciting feedback from students to make improvements. Assessing student learning also is not a new concept; most instructors know that they have to give grades, and to do that they have to assess students. Even those instructors who teach ungraded noncredit classes assess student learning.

In the day-to-day flurry of teaching, however, it is possible for the connection between an instructor’s  teacher’s goals and the assessment of student learning to lose some clarity. The Student Learning Outcomes Assessment mandate refocuses all of us on the strong links between statements of goals (SLOs) and their assessment. Here is a concise definition of assessment that explains those connections:

Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves making our expectations explicit and public; setting appropriate criteria and high standards for learning quality; systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well performance matches those expectations and standards; and using the resulting information to document, explain, and improve performance. When it is embedded effectively within larger institutional systems, assessment can help us focus our collective attention, examine our assumptions, and create a shared academic culture dedicated to assuring and improving the quality of higher education (Thomas A. Angelo, AAHE Bulletin, November 1995, p. 7).

The accreditation standard that has launched this project does not micromanage the assessment process. Instead, it leaves to faculty the decisions that will determine how useful the assessment process will be in improving teaching and learning. In other words, faculty members decide how they will assess the SLOs.

Assessment Tools

Any tool that measures the degree to which students have met a learning outcome qualifies as assessment.

Assessment Tools

  • skills performances or demonstrations
  • portfolios
  • productions (essay, oral presentation, visual artifact, speech)
  • surveys, quizzes, and tests

Most outcomes can be measured in a variety of ways. The handout below provides descriptions of various types of assessment tools and their uses.

Choosing the Best Assessment Tool

What is the outcome asking a student to do?

  • Identify a fact?
  • Perform a skill?
  • Analyze a complex phenomenon?
  • Solve a problem?
  • Explain a concept?
  • Create a learning product?
  • Prepare a performance?
  • Apply skills or knowledge to real-world situations?
  • Evaluate options and select appropriate resources or tools?
  • Complete a task?

What types of assignments or activities will allow students to demonstrate the SLO?

What criteria will you be used to measure success or failure to meet the SLO?

  • Rubrics
  • Raw Score

What are the expected results? (How many students  are expected to successfully meet the SLO?)

The Difference between Assessing and Grading

It is also important to differentiate between SLO assessment and grading. While the skills needed to attain the student learning outcome(s) for a course can and should inform the grade a student receives in a course, there are often more factors involved in a student’s grade than skill achievement. Often, missing or inconsistent work over the course of a term can significantly impact a student’s grade, even if he or she has reached the SLO for a course.

A student’s final grade in a course should not be the SLO assessment measure. Instead, an assignment in the course that effectively measures the achievement of the SLO should be the assessment tool. Rather than using a student’s grade on that assignment as the measure of success, criteria should be developed (either through a rubric or through setting a raw score as the threshold) for successfully meeting the SLO.

In order to help organize the assessment process, it is helpful to have a written plan (called an assessment plan) for how and when each SLO will be assessed. When developing an assessment plan, it is best to involve as many relevant faculty as possible, including full-time and part-time faculty.