What is Program Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes?

Using a variety of measures, faculty assess student learning at the program level to understand and strengthen the learning that takes place in an academic program as a whole. It provides faculty a means to ask fundamental questions about the programs they design and in which they teach.

By completing a given set of courses and other requirements, do students acquire, in the end, the particular knowledge, skills, habits of mind, and attitudes faculty intend? If not—or if not fully enough—what pedagogical and curricular reforms can be undertaken to improve student learning?

Assessment of student learning outcomes at the program level is based on aggregated data about student learning collected at various points in a program. Program assessment is to be distinguished from assessment of individual student learning at the course level, which results in feedback to students about their learning and grades.

What are Essential Learning Outcomes?

Essential learning outcomes describe what every undergraduate should know and be able to do upon graduation, regardless of major. In order to achieve that goal, students need to be given opportunities to acquire and practice the knowledge and skills identified as “essential” in both their general education and in their disciplinary majors or programs of study.

The university conducts annual assessment of randomly selected and de-identified First-Year Writing papers from WRT 110W both in the fall and spring semesters in order to evaluate incoming students’ academic writing and to establish a baseline. Each year upper-level junior and senior papers are also assessed using the same AACU rubric to evaluate the quality of pre-baccalaureate academic writing. The upper-level papers are selected from different majors and colleges on a rotating basis. Assessment coders include teams of discipline-specific instructors and generalist writing instructors.

The university assesses four essential outcomes on a four-year rotation at the program level:

  • Written communication
  • Oral communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Teamwork/Collaboration

Responsibilities of Academic Programs

All undergraduate programs have been charged with identifying a product or products to be assessed for Written Communication, Oral Communication, Critical Thinking, and Teamwork/Collaboration during the senior year, and in some cases, the spring of the junior year. When a program is scheduled for assessment, the faculty member in whose course the product is produced collects a sample of the products: 25% of the seniors, but no less than 10, unless there are fewer than 10 seniors, in which case they are all collected. The product should be de-identified (any student identifiers removed) and instead given a number. It is best to collect these products before they are graded, but if they have been graded all comments and grades should also be redacted.

The products are assessed using the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) VALUE rubrics (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education). The assessment should be conducted by a faculty member other than the one who assigned it however, exceptions may be made in programs with fewer full-time faculty. Training workshops are held each fall to familiarize faculty members with the rubrics. Using experienced writing coders, the university assesses first-year writing with the AACU rubric by sampling 25% of the students in WRT 110 each year. For the senior-level writing assessment, faculty should contact Patricia Morelli, Director of the Tutoring Center, who will pair faculty with a writing coder. For all other assessments to minimize bias, two members of the department should score the products and discuss their scores.

All assessment results are reported to the school or college assessment representative and the assistant director of assessment using a spreadsheet designed for the purpose. Since these spreadsheets are used to produce reports for colleges, we ask that they not be adapted or altered.