While there are certainly many answers to this question, in the context of this web site and as developed by the Central Washington University Academic Assessment committee, assessment is “the process and practice of systematically collecting, reviewing, and using information from academic programs for the purpose of improving student learning.” Academic departments and programs at CWU have developed student learning outcomes, which are statements of the key indicators of student learning for those programs.
Faculty need to engage in assessment for at least two reasons:
First, assessment is designed to function as continuing improvement for teaching and learning. Assessment helps CWU improve the manner and degree to which students learn what they are supposed to be learning. Assessment provides information that allows educators to make good decisions based on information about student learning. Assessment encourages educators to look at what they do in the classroom, how their classroom practices affect student learning, and what changes could be made in teaching methods or materials to enhance student learning.
Secondly, faculty need to engage in assessment to assist the university in remaining accountable to the constituencies it serves. Students and their families should be able to see how CWU achieves in teaching and learning; accrediting agencies need to know that CWU is effective in teaching and learning; legislative and executive governmental bodies provide funding and need to know that these funds are accomplishing their intended purposes.
Student learning outcomes are statements of what a student is expected to know, be able to do, or be disposed toward, following the completion of a course or a degree program. Student learning outcomes are key indicators of what a student has learned. Student learning outcome statements are written in a specific manner to make it easier to see what a student has or has not learned.
Both goals and outcomes are statements of the desired results of the learning process, and both relate to the mission of the university, college and program.
Goals are general, broad, often abstract statements of desired results.
Example: CWU will maintain and strengthen an outstanding academic and student life on the Ellensburg campus Outcomes are more specific, narrow and measurable. They express a specific benefit or "value added" that a student can demonstrate upon completion of an academic program or course. An outcome contains all three of the following elements:
what is to be learned (knowledge, skill, attitude),
what level of learning is to be achieved (criteria, standard), and
under what conditions the learning is to be demonstrated (environment, support, etc.).
Example: Students will be able to name all of the bones in the human body as stated in the medical textbook "The Human Body".
Methods of assessment are the means used to assess student learning--they are the educational practices we engage in to see if students are learning what we say they are learning. Traditionally, educators have considered class grades as the primary means for assessing student learning. Grades are certainly important; however, in assessing student learning outcomes, other methods have shown to provide more specific information on student knowledge, skills and dispositions. Grades provide a broad and generic report on student performance; other methods allow educators to see more detail concerning student learning. These other methods include such practices as pre- and post-testing on skills and knowledge; writing prompts and samples; reflective writing; portfolios; internships and clinical experiences; and capstone experiences and courses.
Although the grades students receive is an important indicator of whether they have successfully met a faculty member's requirements and expectations for a course - they are considered by most assessment experts to be simply too broad and general to function as effective programmatic assessment measures. Grades are often too broad in that they may take into consideration such elements as how much a student has improved over time in a course; how much effort a student has expended in a course; or even the attendance of a student. Also, course content and management (including grading structure/weighting/ number of tests, etc.) vary among faculty members teaching the same course. Thus, grades do not get at answering whether students can demonstrate the ability to perform at an acceptable level in each specific program outcome. For example, a course may include completing an assignment that is worth 20% of the course grade. It is possible for one student to get an exceptional grade on that assignment, and another student to fail that assignment, with both students receiving a "C" for the final course grade. The course grade in itself provides no measure of students' demonstrated skills or of the capacity of the curriculum to produce the desired traits in its students. On the other hand, the grades on the assignment are an indicator of students' skills. If faculty agree on how the assignment is to be evaluated (including articulating its minimum performance standards), a task assigned within a course may be a very appropriate program assessment measure. Thus, course products (papers, presentations, exercises) may be used to meet program learning standards, but course grades, by themselves, cannot.
Assessment plans are simply a description of the student learning outcomes developed by a department or program, the assessment methods selected for use by that department or program, and the timeline for the gathering, analysis and reporting of assessment results. For more information about assessment plans, please see Assessment Plan Directions
Assessment reports are the annual reports completed by all degree-granting programs at CWU. Assessment reports describe the student learning outcomes assessed that year, the assessment methods used, the population assessed, the results of the assessment, and what the department or program plans to do or has done in response to the assessment reports. For more information on assessment reports, please see Assessment of Student Learning Report Example and Form.
Annual assessment reports are due by the end of the 2nd week of December each academic year representing work from the previous academic year. For example, the report submitted in December, 2012 represents the time period between the Fall, 2011 quarter through Summer, 2012 quarter.
The Academic Assessment committee is charged with reviewing all annual departmental student learning assessment reports and completes an assessment feedback form for all reports. Each degree-granting program that submits an assessment report receives an individualized assessment feedback report based on the annual assessment report. The annual assessment reports and the feedback reports form the basis for the annual Student Learning Outcome Assessment Summary. The annual reports and feedback reports also form the basis of an overall Academic Affairs Student Learning Assessment Report.
Program Review is a comprehensive report on the quality of a degree-granting program. Program Review generally occurs once every five years, and involves a self-study by the department or program, as well as a review by outside evaluators.
Assessment is an annual process focused on student learning. Assessment plays a large role in Program Review, as assessment is a main component of the Program Review Report. Assessment must still take place even when programs are undergoing program review.