Assessment Basics

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 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 performance, 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.

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