What is program assessment?

Program assessment involves two essential components:

  1. identifying what you want your students to learn (articulating learning goals)
  2. investigating whether students are actually learning

In SAS, these two activities are guided by our overarching goal of improving student learning. Our inquiry-oriented approach to assessment is designed to be flexible enough to support any form of inquiry into student learning that faculty believe will be useful to improving student learning.

What is the difference between program assessment and Core assessment?

SAS asks departments and programs to report on two types of assessment activities: program assessment and Core assessment. Both involve looking at what students are learning, but they have different areas of focus and processes:

Program Assessment

Core Assessment 

Focuses on student mastery of department- or program-defined learning goals Focuses on student mastery of Core learning goals in Core-certified courses
Reported on every year

Reports requested on a three-year cycle* (but departments are welcome to assess and report more often!)

*The fine print: winter session courses must assess every time they're offered

Can examine any area of a department's curriculum Must be conducted on all Core-certified courses offered in a department (during that department's reporting year)
Highly flexible, to accommodate evolving departmental priorities and areas of interest Should follow the course's Core assessment plan, which is reviewed and approved by the Core Requirements Committee as part of Core certification
Formal request for program assessment reports typically goes out in mid-Spring semester Reminder e-mail with list of Core-certified courses is sent to department's chair and undergraduate vice chair in mid-summer
We recommend starting work in early Fall

We recommend reminding instructors in Core-certified courses about Core assessment each semester

Narrative reporting through a reporting form 2-part reporting: course-level results reported through an online system, plus a brief department-wide narrative report

What are some best practices in assessment?

The SAS Assessment Committee is especially interested in promoting useful, sustainable, assessment practices in programs that utilize clear, authentic learning goals.

Assessment is useful when:

  • it is inquiry-oriented
  • it produces findings that a department can actually use to improve student learning

Assessment is sustainable when:

  • a department has an assessment working group or committee that is active and continuously maintained from one academic year to the next
  • all faculty are involved in formulating program learning goals and assessment questions
  • findings are circulated to, and discussed with, all faculty

Your program utilizes clear, authentic learning goals when:

  • learning goals state the most important demonstrable skills, activities, or competencies that students should master by the end of your program
  • your program can clearly identify which courses or requirements develop student mastery of each learning goal
  • your program identifies specific expectations for student performance, in the form of rubrics or other benchmarks
  • your program communicates your learning goals and benchmarks to students

What is the relation between grades and assessment?

Both grading and assessment involve looking at student academic performance, and the two often overlap.

But grades—both course grades and grades for specific assignments—often incorporate factors that don't reflect student learning, for instance penalties for late work.

Also, grades often summarize student performance along a number of dimensions. For instance, a grade on a paper grade may summarize a student's mastery of course concepts, writing ability, and critical thinking skills. Most inquiry into student learning will benefit from more fine-grained information about student performance in each of these areas.

Why does SAS require annual reports on program assessment activities?

Regularly reporting helps keep assessment activities on track, and provides SAS with information about what the Office of Undergraduate Education can do to support those efforts.

In addition, each year the University-wide Assessment Council on Learning Outcomes requests a report on all assessment efforts in the School of Arts and Sciences. The Office of Undergraduate Education uses the information you provide in departmental reports to compile that school-wide report.