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Assessing Student Learning Outcomes


Refer to "What are SLOs" section of How do I for information on SLO 

Setting goals for courses and programs is not a new idea to faculty; it is an integral part of teaching. And assessing student learning also is not a new concept; teachers know that they have to give grades, and to do that they have to assess students. In the day-to-day flurry of teaching, however, it is possible for the connection between a teachers goals and the assessment of student learning to lose some clarity. The Student Learning Outcomes Assessment mandate refocuses all of us on the strong links between statements of goals (SLOs) and their assessment. Here is a concise definition of assessment that explains those connections:

Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves making our expectations explicit and public; setting appropriate criteria and high standards for learning quality; systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well performance matches those expectations and standards; and using the resulting information to document, explain, and improve performance. When it is embedded effectively within larger institutional systems, assessment can help us focus our collective attention, examine our assumptions, and create a shared academic culture dedicated to assuring and improving the quality of higher education (Thomas A. Angelo, AAHE Bulletin, November 1995, p. 7).


Here are some steps that will help you develop an assessment plan for a course:

First, check your SLOs:

  • How many are there? If there are more than three, they likely aren't true SLOs they may be objectives that were just moved into the SLO area. You should revise them into SLOs before creating an assessment plan.
  • Are the SLOs overarching (big picture learning for the course) or are they smaller objectives (things learned in just one chapter, for instance)?If they are not overarching, you should revise the SLOs before creating an assessment plan.
  • Is the student learning described in the SLO observable and measurable?If not, you should revise the SLOs to make them observable and measurable before creating an assessment plan.

Next, decide on an appropriate assessment tool. Consider:

  • What is the SLO asking the students to do?
    • Identify a fact?
    • Perform a skill?
    • Analyze a complex phenomenon?
    • Solve a problem?
    • Explain a concept?
    • Create a learning product?
    • Prepare a performance?
    • Apply skills or knowledge to real-world situations?
    • Evaluate options and select appropriate resources or tools?
  • What types of assignments or activities will allow students to demonstrate the SLO(see Appendix C for more information about choosing an assessment tool)?
    • What tool will you select?
      • Objective exams?
      • Essay exams?
      • Out-of-class formal essays?
      • Skill demonstrations?
      • Surveys?
      • Portfolios?
      • Performances?
      • Oral Presentations?
  • What criteria will you use to measure success or failure to meet the SLO?
    • Rubric (see Appendix E for tips on how to develop a rubric)?
    • Raw score?
  • What are the expected results? (How many students do you expect to successfully meet the SLO?)

The WASC accreditation standard that has launched this project does not micromanage the assessment process. Instead, it leaves to faculty the decisions that will determine how useful the assessment process will be in improving teaching and learning. In other words, faculty members decide how they will assess the SLOs. Any tool that measures the degree to which students have met a learning outcome qualities as assessment. Such tools include skills performances or demonstrations, portfolios, productions (essay, oral presentation, visual artifact, speech), surveys, quizzes, and tests.

Often, missing or inconsistent work over the course of a term can significantly impact a students grade, even if he or she has reached the SLO for a course. A students final grade in a course should not be the SLO assessment measure. Instead, an assignment in the course that effectively measures the achievement of theSLO should be the assessment tool. Rather than using a students grade on that assignment as the measure of success, criteria should be developed (either through a rubric or through setting a raw score as the threshold) for successfully meeting the SLO.

Then, decide how and when you will do the assessment:

  • How often will you assess this course?
    • Will it be on a three-year cycle? A four-year cycle? Other?
    • Are there similar courses that could be grouped together?
    • Which semester will you begin assessing this course?
    • If you make changes, when will you reassess to see the effects?
  • Will you assess all students and sections or will you use sampling?
    • If you are sampling, how many students/sections will be involved?
    • How will you decide which students/sections to involve?
  • What do you need to do to prepare?
    • Do you need to set up meetings for faculty teaching the course?
    • Do you need to create a departmental test or rubric?
    • How will you distribute materials?
    • Do you need any additional resources or training?

Finally, think about how and when you will share the assessment results and use the results in decision-making about the course and/or program (closing the loop):

  • What needs to be done to gather and present the data?
    • Do you need data from Institutional Research?
    • What format will you use to share the data? PowerPoint? Handouts? Other?
  • When will be a meaningful time for your department to reflect on the results?
    • Department retreats?
    • Department meetings?
    • Other?  

In order to help organize the assessment process, it is helpful to have a written plan (called an assessment plan) for how and when each SLO will be assessed. When developing an assessment plan, it is best to involve as many relevant faculty as possible, including full-time and part-time faculty.

For assessment plan forms and sample assessment plans, please see Appendix D. Developing Assessment Plans for Courses