Planning for Curricular Assessment

Resource Title:
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:

  1. Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes
    These should be specific, measurable, student-oriented, and related to the unit's mission.
    More information about objectives and outcomes from University of Connecticut, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.
  2. Methods
    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.
  3. Results
    Any results should be clearly described and related to the objectives and stated criteria for success.
  4. 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.

  • 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 years 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)?
  • 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?
    • A sample project like this at U-M is the ECoach project in the Department of Physics, which predicts students final course grades using learning analytics, then targets study skills resources to them accordingly.


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.

  • Faculty Development Fund supports innovative revisions to courses or innovative course development or initiating smaller innovative projects to improve student learning at the University of Michigan.
  • The Gilbert Whitaker Fund can be used for large-scale assessment projects and provides funding for collaborative groups of faculty to improve teaching and learning.

Look here for more U-M funding opportunities.

Useful Resources

CRLT Services

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.