Assessment Guidance

Writing Clear Learning Outcomes

A learning outcome describes what students should be able to demonstration, know, think, or do by the completion of a course and/or program.  The learning outcome should be both meaningful to the student and course/program, as well as measurable.  Consider the following:

  • Specific - the outcome should be specific to what is to be learned within the course/program.  Do not double or triple-barrel items into one outcome.
  • Measurable - the outcome has to be measured by at least one direct measure.
  • Achievable - a student should be able to achieve your set goal on an outcome based on their current knowledge or skills within a course/program.
  • Relevant - the outcome should be relevant to the current field of study 
  • Timely - a student must be able to attain and demonstrate his proficiency on a learning outcome over a reasonable amount of time.  

What to Assess

The purpose of student learning outcomes assessment is to improve student learning within a course and/or program.  In regards to program assessment, what do you want to know about your program

  • Develop an assessment cycle so that all of your program student learning outcomes are assessed over a 3-4 year period.  This can provide the program with valuable information as student's progress through your program (first-year to capstone).  
  • If an area of concern has been identified from your assessment results, the program may want to reassess the same outcome in the same manner as previously to confirm findings, and to develop an action plan to address any concerns.
  • Don't be afraid to think outside of the box; try something new, assess it, and see if it works for your program.    

Where Should I Assess?

After your program outcomes have been vetted and approved, the program should align those outcomes to where they are being introduced, reinforced, and/or assessed/mastered within your courses (i.e. a curriculum map).  This will allow the program to visualize where the learning outcomes are being addressed across the curriculum, and at what levels.  It may also help identify potential gaps, over-coverage, or an out-of-sync sequence between the outcome and course-level.  

All students should be provided the opportunity to develop a mastery of knowledge, skills and dispositions, and be provided with an opportunity to showcase their talents upon graduation.  

Selecting an Appropriate Assessment Measure

Effective student learning outcomes assessment consists of multiple forms of evidence that a program can use to assess student achievement.  First, ensure that your student learning outcomes are measurable (see above), and then look within your courses to see what evidence/artifact (e.g. case study, presentation, research paper, etc.) can be used to assess that outcome; assessment does not need to be an add-on.  Next, make sure that the assessment measure provides valid evidence of student learning.  Finally, the assessment measure must be actionable in order to make decisions on student proficiency, curricula, and teaching strategies.  

What Do I Do With These Results?

Collecting data is easy, but what can you learn from the data that was collected?  

"Collecting data is one thing, but making sense of them is something else. We want to use analytic techniques that are simple, direct, and effective" (Allen, 2004, p. 131).

Did your collected results meet your expectations for your students?  How do your results from multiple forms of assessment (direct and indirect) align or challenge each other?  What areas of concern do the results reveal?  What is the program doing really well at?  These are all great questions to ask when analyzing your assessment data.  

Discussion of Findings to Inform Change

One of the most important steps in the assessment cycle is the sharing and discussion of the results as a program.  This provides an opportunity to celebrate your successes, and acknowledge areas of concern.  If the program identifies areas of concern, an action plan should then be discussed to address the concern(s).  Action items could include:

  • Do our program outcomes need to be clarified?  Are they appropriate to the industry today?
  • Are our program outcomes aligned to the correct course?  Is the outcome being covered appropriately within that course (check the alignment)  
  • Was the instrument that was being used to assess that outcome appropriate?