Academic Assessment

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Academic Assessment Frequently Asked Questions


What's the difference between assessment and program review? How are they related?

  • Assessment of program learning outcomes focuses on gathering evidence about student achievement of those outcomes deemed salient by the program. See the Assessment webpage for more info.

  • Program Review for non-accredited programs occurs every six years and includes program-level assessment. See the Program Review webpage for more info.

  • The Program Review self-study involves a broader and deeper self-evaluative study of the entire program (e.g., enrollment trends, degree/major completion trends, faculty hire, research/scholarship trends) with an eye toward identifying overall areas of strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement. See the Program Review Guides and Resources page for the Self Study Guidelines (.doc) and other info.

What are SLOs?

Student Learning Outcomes. Statements of learning outcomes express, in observable terms, the knowledge, skills, and competencies that students are expected to exhibit upon successful completion of a course, academic program, co-curricular program, etc. Student Learning Outcomes by Institution, Department, and Program. For more information, refer to the Program Assessment Guide (.doc) on the Forms, Guides, and Templates page.

What is the difference between a mission/goal and a learning outcome?

These terms are used in a variety of ways across the assessment community. But in general the mission statement does not contain measurable learning outcomes whereas the statement of learning outcomes should be measurable. Mission statements are more general than particular learning outcomes. A variety of different learning outcomes may all work to promote the mission of the institution.

How can I create student learning outcomes?

Programmatic student learning outcomes should be created with the widest possible faculty involvement and should identify the measurable knowledge skills and abilities that the program intends to develop in the students who pass through their program. The faculty own student learning outcomes for their program. There is no further approval process necessary outside of the program. Completed or revised student learning outcomes should be sent to the catalog copy editor for inclusion in the catalog as well as to the Office of Assessment for inclusion on the Assessment website. Programs are encouraged to make their learning outcomes available on their program website as well.

How can Bloom's Taxonomy help me?

Bloom’s taxonomy can help identify appropriate learning outcomes in 2 different ways. In one way Blooms taxonomy gives us language which can be used to design measurable student learning outcomes. The second way is that it specifies the various cognitive levels to which student assignments can be pitched and measured. For example fundamental cognitive levels would be pitched at a student’s earlier exposure to curriculum and the Higher Order Bloom’s Taxonomy levels are more appropriately used for more advanced student work. See Bloom’s Taxonomy (.pdf) on the Resources page.

What is an Assessment Liaison?

Assessment Liaisons are faculty members who work with the colleagues in their department to develop their program's 5-year plan and submit annual assessment reports. The Assessment Liaison is also responsible for submitting requests for assessment funding, if available. Although assessment is the responsibility of all faculty members in a program, the Assessment Liaison is the point person who works to see that assessment is implemented. Academic Assessment Liaison Committee Charge and list of committee members (.xls).

When are my assessment results due?

The annual program assessment reports for AY 2020-21 are due on September 28, 2021.

What assessment method should we use?

There is no single "best" assessment method that will work for all programs and all learning outcomes. Programs should seek out direct assessment methods (methods that ask students to demonstrate achievement such as a capstone project) but indirect methods (methods, like a survey, that ask students what they think they learned) are often used to supplement direct methods. Examples of direct methods are: capstone projects, presentations, performances, theses, research papers, portfolios, internship or practicum evaluations, or use of professional jurors or evaluators. Refer to the ScholarWorks Assessment Reports Repository or the Annual Assessment Reports page for examples.

Do we have to assess every year?

Assessment should be an ongoing, continuous part of the life of the program and assessment reports should be submitted on an annual basis. However, you do not have to assess every student learning outcome every year. Programs with many student learning outcomes may rotate between assessing different learning outcomes in different years (unless required by your program). Programs with smaller enrollments may wish to implement the same assessment methods for several years in a row in order to collect sufficient data for making decisions about program changes. Some departments may also choose to take a “reflection” or “action” year. Assessment should be done in a way that is meaningful and manageable and provides the program with clear information about whether or not students are achieving the desired learning outcomes. Plans for assessing different outcomes over different years should be defined in your program's 5-year plan. The planning templates can be found on the Forms, Guides, and Templates page.

What does my program have to do?

Implement (or develop) an Assessment Plan (multi-year cycle (.doc) or yearly cycle (.doc) template) and summarize assessment activity in an Annual Assessment Report (program (.doc) or college-level (.doc)), all of which can be found on the Forms, Guides, and Templates page.

What is the process for reporting assessment activities?

The program or college assessment liaison uses the reporting forms (either program (.doc) or college-level (.doc)) on the Forms, Guides, and Templates page to provide a summary of the program or colleges assessment activities, results, and use of results. This information should be gathered from the faculty within the college or program participating in assessment activities. This report, including information from the previous academic year, is due to the Office of Academic Assessment in the Fall. The due dates are listed on the report templates.

Will assessment results be used for individual faculty evaluation?

Assessment of student learning is conducted in order to determine what faculty as a whole can do to improve learning of students in their program. It should not be used as an evaluation of an individual faculty member. When there is evidence of inadequate student learning, faculty members and the department should collectively take appropriate action to address the issues and make improvement.

Why assess?

The purpose of assessment is to facilitate the highest quality educational experience for our students through the systematic collection and interpretation of student competencies at graduation, at defining points through the curricula (general education and major) and at entrance.

Who must participate in assessment?

All undergraduate degree-granting departments or programs must participate in assessment. It is a benefit for graduate programs to also have articulated learning outcomes for their students. In addition, many non-degree conferring programs also participate in assessment.

What is an assessment plan?

This is a plan designed by the program which outlines learning objectives, competencies, measures to be implemented, criteria, and timelines. The plan also includes a curriculum alignment matrix (.docx). The planning and matrix templates can be found on the Forms, Guides, and Templates page.

What is an alignment matrix?

The alignment matrix identifies which courses provide opportunities for student achievement of particular program learning outcomes. See the Alignment Matrix Template and Sample (.docx) on the Forms Guides, and Templates page.

What is an assessment report?

This is a cumulative report for the assessments performed during a specified time, including assessment methods, results, use of results, and any other relevant assessment-related information for the year. The reporting forms (program (.doc) or college-level (.doc)) can be found on on the Forms, Guides, and Templates page. Refer to the ScholarWorks Assessment Reports Repository or the Annual Assessment Reports page for examples.

What should a completed Assessment Report look like?

All annual assessment reports are available at the ScholarWorks Assessment Reports Repository or the Annual Assessment Reports page. Please refer to reports within your college for examples. Many assessment reports are excellent.

How is assessment data and other evidence of student learning used?

They are used by the program to make curricular, pedagogical and programmatic improvements.

What is "closing the loop?"

“Closing the Loop” encompasses analyzing results from outcome assessments, using results to make changes to improve student learning, and re-assessing outcomes in order to determine the effect those changes had on student learning. Critical to this process is that these revisions are made on the basis of qualitative and quantitative data that are gathered systematically, not on the basis of anecdotal evidence or intuition.

How does assessment differ from regular evaluation of students (i.e., grades)?

Assessing students in class is often called "classroom assessment," as opposed to "program assessment" or "learning outcomes assessment." You assess students in your classes to determine how much they have learned in your classes and to assign grades. "Assessment of academic programs" is intended to assess how well programs are working by looking at the assessment results of groups of students in those programs. Therefore, an effective assessment program requires that the faculty in those programs have agreed upon the learning outcomes or learning goals for all students in the program, regardless of the courses that they take. Then, the faculty need to agree upon how they are going to determine what the students have learned. When faculty assess students as a group rather than as individual students, look at the assessment results from a program perspective, analyze those results, and determine whether they need to revise anything in the program, then they are conducting assessment of the academic programs.

Why can't we use grades?

A letter grade is a nominal value that provides an overall summary of a student’s performance. Salient and summative in nature, grades inform instructors about their students’ achievement and play a key role in any academic system. However, they have shortcomings when being used for the purposes of making informed improvements about a program if they are not clearly linked to major learning goals and are not clearly delineated through the use of test blueprints or rubrics (Walvood & Anderson, 1998). A significant body of literature has focused on the subjective nature of grades, and this research has suggested that instructors use grades to motivate students to learn. The tendency of instructors to use attitude, effort, class discussion, and participation has been well documented (Guskey, 1994) calling into question the validity of such assessment. Grading standards within departments or programs may also be vague and inconsistent and do not correspond to department learning goals. This occurs quite frequently when different faculty teach different sections of the same course. Because letter grades are nominal in value they alone do not provide sufficient information on student strengths and weaknesses. While a letter grade of a B indicates that a student has learned a great deal about a subject, it does not provide information about which aspects need improvement. For example, a grade of a B on an English paper might reflect adequate content, poor mechanics, and average synthesis, or it might reflect poor content, adequate mechanics, and average synthesis.

What are the benefits of assessment?

Course and program assessment can provide data that will help course instructors, programs, and departments make informed decisions in terms of the program strengths and areas for improvement. In addition, the data collected for assessment can also be used for other purposes such as annual reviews.

What role does assessment play in accreditation?

Assessment forms an integral part for both internal program review and specialized accreditation agencies. Please see the CSUN’s Self Study Guidelines (.doc) on the Program Review Guides and Resources page to see how assessment reports are used in the self study. If your program is accredited by a specialized accreditor please see their program review guidelines on the role of assessment for your self study. Refer to the Program Assessment Guide (.doc) for general information.

How can I get more involved?

Please call the Office of Academic Assessment to explore opportunities for involvement at 818-677-6712.

How can I get more support?

The Office of Academic Assessment is available to help facilitate assessment for all programs. You can call the office at 818-677-6712.