For the 2020–21 Program Assessment report form, please click here. The guidelines below will help you plan your assessment activities and complete your Program Assessment report.
SAS takes an inquiry-oriented approach to assessment. This approach involves identifying a question about student learning that faculty believe will provide them with useful information; investigating student learning in order to answer that question; and discussing and acting on the results of that investigation.
Identifying a Question
Inquiry-oriented assessment is designed with flexibility in mind. The question about student learning that you investigate should meet two criteria:
1. The question should be useful: answering it should help to inform your department’s decisions about curriculum design, instructional practices, student advising, or other factors that impact student learning.
2. Answering the question should involve directly examining student learning or performance.
Traditional assessment practice examines a question of the form:
- Are students demonstrating mastery of our program’s learning goals at the level that we expect?
- Are students in our methods course demonstrating mastery of goal 2?
If investigating this type of question provides your department with useful information, you should feel free to continue this practice.
Alternatively, your department may investigate other questions about student learning or performance that will help to improve your program.
Some examples of assessment questions that departments have found useful:
- When students complete our lower-level courses, have they mastered the skills needed to succeed in upper-level courses?
- Do students taking online sections of our introductory courses perform as well in follow-up courses as students taking the face-to-face versions?
- Did adding a prerequisite to our honors seminar increase student performance as expected?
- Did students participating in our new internship demonstrate the ability to integrate and apply what they’ve learned in the program?
Discussing and Using Your Findings
Disseminating and discussing assessment results with faculty is vital. Only your department’s faculty can properly contextualize, interpret, and use the information that is gathered through the assessment process. In your annual assessment report, please be sure to describe how you share findings with your faculty.Please describe how you share findings with your faculty.
Next steps should be responsive to what you have found:
- You may plan curricular, instructional, or other changes in response to your results. If so, please provide a general description of the planned changes in your annual assessment report.
- The investigation this year may generate further questions that your department plans to investigate during a future assessment cycle. If so, please identify those further questions in your assessment report and follow up next year!
- If your department plans to use your findings in some other way, please provide a general description of your plans in your annual assessment report.
In any event, please provide a timeline for your next steps.
Can my department continue to engage in assessment of learning outcomes as we have in the past?
If traditional assessment activities are useful for your department, absolutely! If you want to take this route, your department will investigate a question of the form Are students demonstrating mastery of our program’s learning goals?
What do you mean by “directly examining student performance”?
Your assessment activities should involve taking a direct look at student work or performance in some way. That might include written work, responses to exam questions, or performance in oral presentations, among many other possibilities. It does not include some other ways of collecting data, for instance surveying student satisfaction or conducting student focus groups, which might provide valuable information but don’t provide direct insight into students' academic performance.
What about grades?
Both grading and assessment involve looking at student academic performance, and the two often overlap. But grades often aren’t the best way of answering a specific question about student learning, for two reasons:
- Grades often incorporate factors that don’t reflect student performance, for instance penalties for late work.
- Grades often summarize student performance along a number of dimensions. For instance, a paper grade may summarize a student’s mastery of course concepts, writing ability, and critical thinking skills. Most inquiry into student learning benefits from more fine-grained information about student performance in one or more of these specific areas.
What if we aren’t sure how to answer our question?
Do we have to make changes in response to what we find? What if our investigation this year leads to further questions?
That’s fine! We encourage further inquiry. You should be able to identify some foreseeable positive impact on student learning as a result of your inquiry, but it’s reasonable to need to collect further information before taking action.
Is it OK for our inquiry to focus on a specific course or point in the curriculum?
Yes, as long as you are collecting specific, useful information that can have a positive impact on student learning.