Academic Program Learning Assessment

Why Student Learning Outcome Assessment is a Positive Process for Your Program

It's not just about the numbers! Assessment is the art of evaluating to improve.

The use and reporting of program assessment data to improve the quality of academic programs for students is required of all higher-ed programs. Assessment should focus foremost on collecting data that will inform us about student learning that matters, and should be viewed as a continuous source of knowledge for program and institutional improvement, not as a reaction to demands for accountability. As assessment practices continue to spread throughout the campus community, the goal is to build appreciation for assessment of student achievement as a productive way to understand and improve learning and teaching.


An effective, simple assessment program of student learning that will provide a solid foundation for future enhancements contains some basic components, listed below. Detailed information on how to create each of these components is provided via the links in the side menu.

  • Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) for each of your degree programs.
  • A Curriculum Map, which allows you to align your curriculum (courses and activities) with each of the learning outcomes for a "big picture" look at your program.
  • Two measures (also referred to as the Assessment Plan) to determine how well your students are achieving each of the outcomes.
    • One direct measure
      • Example: A sample of student work completed toward the end of the program, evaluated by faculty with a rubric or other tool, to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the students as a group.
    • One indirect measure
      • Example: A student survey at graduation or a focus group asking the students to self-assess their level of achievement of the learning outcomes.
  • Findings Focus foremost on collecting data that will inform you about student learning that matters. Yes, the use of standardized tools such as rubrics is important to collect “numbers,” but you can supplement the numbers with a holistic look at student learning based on the faculty members' experience and professional judgement about the student work they have reviewed. After the findings have been gathered, the faculty, as a whole, should review the data and discuss potential areas of both positive as well as negative results. We recommend that this be done at a faculty meeting or annual retreat, when there is more time for discussion.
  • Changes in Response to Findings (Action Plan) After discussing the findings, the faculty need to identify an action plan moving forward.If an outcome appears to be satisfactorily met by the students, no action (or changes as a result of findings) is required, and you should explicitly state this. However, if there are areas of weakness or poor performance on an outcome, then an action plan should be created to addressed the concern.

Don't let the terminology scare you! Here is a list of assessment related terms and their definitions.


Getting Started

Start with a small assessment project. Your program can develop a comprehensive assessment plan that is slowly implemented. Here are some techniques to design a comprehensive plan:

  • Create a multi-year plan in which one or two PLOs are assessed each year.
  • Whether your program is in person, online or hybrid, the learning outcomes should be the same, as should the assessments.  We recommend that you report your data by program, and also by type of offering.  
  • Use evidence from a capstone experience to simultaneously evaluate multiple PLOs.
  • Plan a direct and an indirect data collection method for each outcome. Examples:
    • An exit survey given every other year asks students to self-report on all outcomes, while direct evidence of student learning is evaluated for each outcome on an annual rotation (one outcome per year).
    • Student projects in a capstone course are designed to provide evidence for several outcomes. In addition, indirect evidence in the form of an alumni survey and job placement figures are used to support the conclusions reached through analysis of the capstone course results.
    • Use a pre-test/post-test design to gather evidence on possible growth ("value-added") from freshman to senior year.
Graphic of Assessment Cycle

Image of Question MarkIf you have any questions about assessment of student learning, please contact the OIA Assessment Team