Majors Program Assessment


Excerpts from the 2009 Reporting Guide for Assessment (OAA)

Assessment is a strategy to improve student learning in which three key questions should be asked and addressed at the program level:

  1. What do you want students to know, be able to do, and what perspectives should they acquire as a result of a particular program of study?
    1. This is answered by having clearly articulated learning goals for each program of study. (Goals/objectives)
  2. How do you know students achieved the intended/expected goals for learning?
    1. This is answered by collecting/summarizing/evaluating evidence about student learning systematically using a planned means/method. (Methods/means/measures)
  3. How do you use the collected evidence to enhance student learning/outcomes in an ongoing continuous improvement cycle?
    1. This is answered by evaluating and communicating the collected evidence with relevant members of the program regularly, using the evidence to help guide decisions and actions to improve the program and student learning, and then continuing in the iterative assessment cycle. (Use of evidence)

Answering the above questions is accomplished more formally by developing and having a plan for assessment, and using and reporting the findings/evidence about student learning regularly and systematically.

An assessment plan is a blueprint for how a program will assess or evaluate over time, such as a five year interval, whether students are achieving the program’s expected learning goals for them. Assessment plans have the following key components:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Methods for assessing goals and objectives
    • Means or measures for evaluating learning 
    • Criteria
  • Use of information
  • Implementation schedule

An assessment report is a summary of the assessment findings and activities that were actually conducted over a period of time, typically a one-year period. Assessment reports have the following components in addition to those for the assessment plan:

  • Evidence: Observations, findings, and results
    • An indication of whether criteria (minimum and those for excellence) were met
  • Use of evidence:  Review and communication of findings
  • Use of evidence:  Changes made as a result of the findings
  • Next steps or actions planned

At a minimum, reports and plans should include the above basic requirements.  To exceed minimum requirements, plans and reports should incorporate best practices to make the assessment strategy most useful in improving student learning.

What goes in each component of the plan/report (and is entered into the reporting template)?

Goals for Student Learning

The broad learning goals for the program should be stated separately. Each goal might also have associated objectives that are more specific and easier to measure, and which together help assess the broader goal. Some programs may use different terminology to describe learning goals such as educational objectives, competencies and skills, and expected outcomes.

Methods: Means/Measures

Methods are the procedures/means and measures which will be used to determine the quality of student learning for each goal and associated objective.  The same method, such as a survey or review of papers in a capstone course, could be used to assess multiple goals.  If so, the same method should be aligned with each goal or objective it is used to assess.

Multiple measures may be used to assess a single goal or objective.  If so, all of the methods used to assess that goal or objective should be aligned with the means/measures for that goal or objective.

Sometimes all of the measures for several objectives together can provide a means for assessing a broader goal.

Methods: Criteria

The criteria are the standards which will be used to determine if students in the program achieved the expected learning goals and objectives.  Criteria should be established for each goal and objective, and ideally would include both minimum and aspirational levels.

Planned Use

How information and evidence gathered about student learning will be:  evaluated; shared regularly and with whom; and employed systematically to improve learning outcomes, should be planned.  The ‘use’ plan is often the same for evidence collected about all goals and objectives, but could vary for selected goals and data.

Implementation Schedule

The implementation schedule indicates the expected time frame during which assessment of a goal or objective will be initiated and continued, as well as the frequency of assessment.  Not every goal and objective will necessarily be assessed every year.  However, it is expected that all goals and objectives will be evaluated over a three-five year interval, and time is given to reflect about student learning with respect to all goals in a program.

Evidence: Observations/Findings/Results

The evidence is a summary of the findings collected to evaluate the quality of learning for the relevant goal and/or associated objective. Evidence will be aggregated across individual students for program-level assessment. Both qualitative and quantitative information can be used.  For each goal and objective, it is necessary to indicate the extent to which the minimum criteria, and/or the criteria for excellence if established, are met.

Use: Review and Communication of Findings

This use of evidence about student learning refers to how the information was actually evaluated, reviewed, and shared routinely according to a plan.  Assessment information can also be used in other review and planning activities beyond the formal plan, such as unit program review and strategic planning.  Such information could be included in a report.

Use: Changes Made

This use of evidence about student learning refers to any actions taken or changes that were made as a result of the assessment review.  If actions were taken or changes were made, the means by which the changes themselves will be assessed should be considered.  Additional use of assessment information could also be indicated in a report.

Next Steps

Next steps represent a short-term plan to continue assessment activities to improve the program and student learning, and to continue the iterative assessment cycle.  Steps might include specific action plans that result from collected evidence about student learning, continued implementation or refinement of the larger plan, or other relevant expected activities.