What is learning outcomes assessment?

Below are various definitions that have been put forward by leading experts:

“Assessment is the systematic collection of information about student learning, using the time, knowledge, expertise, and resources available, in order to inform decisions about how to improve learning.” (Walvoord, 2004)

“Assessment is the systematic basis for making inferences about the learning and development of students.  It is the process of defining, selecting, designing, collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and using information to increase students’ learning and development.” (Erwin, 1991)

“Assessment is a process of reasoning from evidence.” (Pellegrino, Chudowsky, and Glaser 2001).

“Assessment involves the use of empirical data on student learning to refine programs and improve student learning.” (Allen, 2004).

“Assessment is the systematic collection review and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development.” (Palomba and Banta, 1999).

Why is Middle States so concerned about assessment?

Voluntary, accreditation via peer review is the primary mechanism used to ensure the quality of higher education in the United States.  Middle States, through adherence to high standards for student learning outcomes and operational behavior, seeks to assure higher education’s public that its accredited institutions are fulfilling their stated purposes and addressing the public’s expectations.

In recent years, calls by the public for accountability and transparency in higher education have increased due to continued cost escalation and a perception by many that college graduates are poorly prepared to enter the workforce.  Middle States and other accredited bodies have argued that accreditation via peer review is preferable to the top-down approach instituted by the federal and/or state governments.

I give students a grade, aren’t I already doing assessment?

Grades alone are not sufficient evidence of student learning because, by themselves, grades do not give enough information about the learning that was tested or the criteria used.  Among the multiple problems that attend the grading system are:

  • grade inflation
  • lack of consistent standards
  • vague criteria among courses and institutions
  • non-learning criteria used in the grading process (e.g. class participation)
  • student motivation that focuses too narrowly on grades

This is not to say that grades do not have a place in learning outcomes assessment.  They most certainly do.  According to Linda Suskie, former VP of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, “Grades can be useful evidence of student learning if the grades are based on direct evidence of student learning (tests, projects, papers, assignments, etc.) that is clearly linked to major learning goals and clearly delineated, consistent with standards through test blueprints or rubrics.”

Does learning outcomes assessment infringe on the academic freedom of faculty?

No.  According to Middle States, “Assessment of student learning is not a means of decreasing the autonomy of faculty members.  It is a means of increasing the mutual engagement of faculty members, staff, and students in providing an optimal learning experience.”  According to Barbara Walvoord, a leading expert on assessment in higher education, “Assessment rightly conducted does not ask faculty to repress their knowledge or judgments.  Rather, it asks faculty to work together as colleagues to assess student work fairly by criteria respected in the field and to share their knowledge of student strengths and weaknesses, in order to improve curriculum, pedagogy, and other factors that affect learning.”

What is the difference between direct and indirect evidence?

Direct evidence is clear, tangible evidence that students have or have not learned.  Examples include scores on licensure/certification exams, capstone experiences using a rubric, portfolios, etc.

Indirect evidence, on the other hand, provides signs that students are likely learning, but the proof that they are learning is not as clear or convincing.  Examples include course grades, survey results, test scores unaccompanied by a rubric, student evaluations, etc.

Who is responsible for conducting program level assessment?

Program-level assessment is the responsibility of the faculty in the majors or programs being assessed.  The Office of Institutional Effectiveness and the BCC Assessment Council will provide their support and lend their expertise when needed.

Will assessment results be used to evaluate faculty?

No.  Assessment of student learning is not an evaluation of faculty performance.  The College has a separate process for this.

Is there a difference between assessment and evaluation?

Yes. Evaluation is the analysis and use of data by faculty to make judgments about student performance.  Evaluation includes the determination of a grade or a decision regarding pass/fail for an individual assignment or a course.  Assessment, on the other hand, is the analysis and use of data by students, faculty, and/or departments to make decisions about improvements in teaching and learning.

What is the difference between student learning goals, objectives and outcomes?

Student learning goals are broad statements of desired outcomes – what we hope students will know and be able to do as a result of completing the program/course.  Objectives are clear, brief statements used to describe specific measurable actions or tasks that learners will be able to perform at the conclusion of instructional activities.  Learning outcomes are learning results – the expected learning results — the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of mind that students have or have not taken with them as a result of their experiences in the courses or programs. In practice, the terms goals, objectives, and outcomes have been used interchangeably in the assessment literature.

Why is it important for a syllabus to include course learning outcomes? Shouldn't this already be understood by students?

Having clear learning outcomes on syllabuses helps both students and instructors.  For students, expected outcomes give students a clear understanding of the expectations of a course which allows them to know what to do and how they will be evaluated. For the instructor, listing the expected outcomes allows them to align their assignments with course expectations and aids in evaluating students’ work.

Where can I find more information on campus about assessment of student learning?

Additional information on Assessment at Bronx Community College can be obtained by contacting the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at OIE@bcc.cuny.edu.  Additional information is also available at bcc.cuny.edu/academics/oie.

Where can I find examples of student learning outcomes in my discipline?

Examples of student learning outcomes can be found by searching the Internet for assessment resources in your discipline. Additional sources of learning outcomes may be found by consulting the professional societies and accrediting agencies in your discipline.

Where do you want to go now?

Start your search here