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Planning for Course and Curricular Assessment
"Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves making our expectations explicit and public; setting appropriate 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."
Angelo, T.A. (1995). Reassessing and defining assessment. AAHE Bulletin, 48(3): 149.
Designing an Assessment Plan
Key elements of an assessment plan include:
Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes
These should be specific, measurable, student-oriented, and related to the unit's mission.
For more information about objectives and outcomes, see http://assessment.uconn.edu/primer/goals1.html
Ideally, the plan will include a variety of measures, including both qualitative and quantitative assessments. These measures should be well aligned with the objectives of the curriculum and it should be clear what type of performance would indicate that students are meeting the stated objectives. Walvoord's (2004) "no frills assessment" plan suggests one direct measure and one indirect measure.
Any results should be clearly described and related to the objectives and stated criteria for success.
Use of the Results
The plan should discuss how the assessment results will be used and disseminated (including whether faculty, administrators, students and/or other stakeholders will have access and in what ways the information would be available).
(From Fulcher, K.H., Swain, M., & Orem, C.D., 2012. "Expectations for assessment reports: A descriptive analysis." Assessment Update, 24(1):1-2, 14-16 and Walvoord, B. 2004. Assessment clear and simple.San Francisco: Jossey Bass)
Questions to Ask in an Assessment Project
In researching specific aspects of student learning, the level of assessment will help suggest specific questions. For example, are you assessing learning within one course, across multiple courses, across a program, or across an entire school, college or university? For more information about levels of assessment, see the AAC&U guide (2005), Levels of assessment: From the student to the institution. For other examples of assessment questions, see this Assessment Primer resource.
Sample questions to ask in a course assessment project
How well have students achieved the learning outcomes set for the course? What could be enhanced to improve student success overall?
- A sample project like this at U-M is the assessment of "BA 201: Business Thought and Action," which surveyed students 1-2 year after they took the course to understand how well the course met its learning objectives on a long-term basis.
How well have subgroups of students (e.g., majors vs. nonmajors, or a comparison of underrepresented minorities and non-underrepresented groups) achieved the learning outcomes set for the course? What could be enhanced to improve student success?
- A sample project like this at U-M is the assessment of screencast use in a course that draws engineering majors with widely varying degrees of experience with course concepts. This project found that students who used screencasts earned higher grades in the course, but the greatest gains were for those students who started with less familiarity with the topic.
Have students improved over a term -- from beginning to end -- on their performance about key learning outcomes in the course? How do students explain this improvement (or lack thereof)?
- A sample project like this at U-M used entry and exit surveys to assess atttudinal changes over the term in a service-learning course and a non-service-learning course, both sociology classes focusing on inequality.
- Given how students might be expected to perform based on incoming characteristics (e.g., prior grades or ACT scores), do students perform better or worse than expected?
Sample questions to ask in an assessment project about a program or multiple courses
How are students experiencing a program, both in terms of satisfaction and achievement of key learning outcomes? What could be enhanced to improve student success overall?
A sample project like this at U-M investigates the effect of concurrent enrollment in lecture and lab classes in physics and general chemistry classes.
Effect on Retention and Final Grades of Concurrent Enrollment in Physical Science Lecture and Laboratory Courses
- A sample project like this at U-M investigates the effect of concurrent enrollment in lecture and lab classes in physics and general chemistry classes.
How are subgroups of students (e.g., a comparison of underrepresented minorities and non-underrepresented groups) experiencing a curriculum, both in terms of their satisfaction and learning? What could be enhanced to improve student success?
- A sample project like this at U-M is "Identifying and Serving Generation 1.5 Writers at the University of Michigan." This project investigated how well U-M writing courses are serving U.S.-educated English Language Learners from diverse student backgrounds.
How well are new curricular elements meeting the original goals set for them? Is student learning enhanced through the new curriuculum? Should the new curricular elements be maintained -- or how can they be improved?
- A sample project like this at U-M is the evaluation of the Stamps School of Art & Design new international experience requirement.
Readiness for Assessment
Under what conditions is an assessment project best able to flourish? A "readiness checklist" for curricular reform includes having:
- A shared vision of the program, including curricular outcomes
- An impetus for change, such as a perceived discrepancy between the existing and desired curriculum
- Identification of areas of agreement and disagreement about what concepts are important to teach
For the full checklist, see Lee, V.S., Hyman, M.R., & Luginbuhl, G. (2007). The concept of readiness in the academic department: A case study of undergraduate education reform. Innovative Higher Education, 32: 3-18.
Funding for Assessment of Student Learning
CRLT offers two grant programs that can be used to support assessment projects.
- Investigating Student Learning supports faculty interested in studying a specific aspect of student learning in their course or curricula.
- The Whitaker Fund can be used for large-scale assesment projects and provides funding for collaborative groups of faculty to improve teaching and learning.
Other U-M funding opportunities can be found here.
- Glossary of Assessment Terms
- U-M College of Engineering Guide for Creating Assessment Plans
Assessing your Program-level Assessment Plan (IDEA Paper #45)
A detailed overview of the elements of an assessment plan and questions units can ask themselves in order to develop a thorough and effective assessment plan.
Internet Resources for Higher Education Outcomes Assessment
An extensive set of links including discussion groups, articles, handbooks; assessment methods for specific skills or content; individual institutions’ assessment related pages; links to state accrediting boards and commissions as well as accrediting bodies, such as the North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission.
How to Write a Program Mission Statement (University of Connecticut)
This step-by-step overview discusses how to create a mission statement, which can be a useful foundational document to guide the development of a program's goals and objectives.
CRLT staff work with groups of faculty in departments or schools/colleges to create and implement assessment plans, for the purposes of program review, accreditation, or general curricular enhancement. CRLT staff also can work with individual faculty to develop an evaluation plan for educational grants and course-level research.