Assessment is not an end in itself, but a tool for educational improvement. In this process, evidence is gathered, analyzed, and interpreted to determine how well student performance matches faculty-defined expectations and standards. The results are used to improve teaching and learning.
Assessment is an ongoing process, hence the name Student Learning Outcomes Assessment Cycle (SLOAC). Faculty define SLOs, assess SLOs, analyze the results, and institute improvements. Then the cycle begins again.
Ruth Stiehl wrote that we "assess to assist, assess to advance, assess to adjust."
- Assist - provide formulative feedback to guide student performance
- Advance - summative assessment of student readiness for what's next
- Adjust - continuous improvement of curriculum, pedagogy
The assessment loop is essentially a data-driven method of decision-making and instructional improvement. Assessment is a way of asking what works and what does not.
The goal of assessment is to gather quality data for faculty members to analyze and interpret. Quality data are based on best practices, answer important questions, and benefit the student and institution by providing evidence to complete the SLOAC loop. Quality data is:
- Valid - the data accurately represents what you are trying to measure. For instance the numbers of people that graduate don't necessarily represent good data on what has actually been learned.
- Reliable - the data are reproducible. Repeated assessment yields the same data.
- Authentic - the assessment simulates real-life circumstances.
- Relevant - the data answers important questions, and is not generated simply because it is easy to measure.
- Effective - the data contributes to improving teaching and learning.
The Assessment Smorgasbord
When SLOs are well-written, the method of assessment is often clear. One-size doesn't fit all! Faculty are encouraged to use existing assessment methods and to think of the process as documenting what they are already doing.
There are two components to assessment:
- Assessment activity - what will students do to show you they have achieved the SLO
- Assessment measure - how will instructors evaluate what the students have done
Creating Assessment Tool
To select the appropriate assessment tools, you need to understand the:
- Types of tools available
- Nature of the data
- Potentials and limitations of each tool
To create your own assessment, start by looking at the SLOs for that course or program. Are there any assignments or activities that provide good data on outcomes? If not, you need to create one! Determine which type of assessment tool would best assess that students can DO the outcome. Remember that the assessment should be authentic - closely resembling a real life experience. Will the student perform a task, create a product, analyze a case study, or solve a problem?
After you have identified what the students will do, you need to decide how faculty will measure student outcomes. Start by identifying the major traits that determine a successful outcome. Describe the criteria relating to the traits and create a checklist, rubric or set of descriptive performance standards. Make sure to set the criteria at the appropriate level of thinking (Bloom's taxonomy). Try out your assessment on student work and make appropriate modifications.
One popular assessment tool is the rubric. Read more about Primary Trait Analysis and Rubrics (make sure to look at the links and resources in the far right column of the linked website) and view the powerpoint from the Rubric Workshop (LAVC Fall 2008). The nuts and bolts of hwo to use rubrics can also be found in this workshop powerpoint (LAVC Spring 2010).
For an example of qualitative assessment without a rubric, view the handout from the How to Assess SLOs Without a Rubric Workshop (LAVC Spring 2009).
When you submit your SLO to the curriculum committee, it will be evaluated with a checklist consisting of the following:
- Is directly related to the outcome and can realistically measure/document the outcome
- Is specific enough to show how the SLO is being assessed (e.g., it is not enough to simply write "exam" without showing how the exam will assess student learning)
- Will produce and/or document evidence of student learning
- Will produce manageable information and statistical knowledge
- Is a realistic, feasible way of collecting and analyzing evidence
- Can differentiate between different levels of achievement through the use of a rubric or other measure