Develop an Assessment Strategy

Assessment is a strategy to improve student learning in which three key questions should be asked and addressed at the course-level:

  1. What do you want students to know, be able to do, and what perspectives should they acquire, as a result of this particular course? This is answered by having clearly articulated course goals for each class.
  2. How do you know students achieved the intended/expected goals for learning? This is answered by collecting/summarizing/evaluating evidence about student learning systematically using a planned means and aligning this evidence with the goals and outcomes that each measures.
  3. How do you use the collected evidence to improve student learning/outcomes in an ongoing continuous improvement cycle? This is answered by regularly evaluating and communicating the collected evidence, using the evidence to help guide decisions and actions to improve the course and facilitate student learning, and then continuing in the iterative assessment cycle.

While it is not necessary to create a formalized plan to use assessment in your course, many people find it helpful to organize their goals and the timeframe in which they intend to assess specific goals and learning outcomes. There are a few things to keep in mind when you are developing a strategy for assessing your course:

  • It is not necessary to evaluate all of your learning outcomes at once. In fact, it is often better to start by focusing on a few of the most important learning outcomes for your class to evaluate whether those are currently being satisfied in your course. Assessment is an ongoing process and during different terms or permutations of the course you can focus on different course goals and learning outcomes. Note: Creating an implementation schedule (see below in Developing a Written Assessment Plan) can be helpful as you strategize which learning outcomes you will immediately focus on and which ones you want to focus on later.
  • It is also not necessary to continuously evaluate the same learning outcomes. Once you have monitored a learning outcome, made changes to ensure your students are meeting the learning outcome, and seen that those changes are working, you can focus on assessing other learning outcomes for your course. However, to make sure that your changes continue to help your students’ meet the learning outcomes, it is recommended that you check back in with their success periodically. Remember, assessment is an ongoing process, you want to ensure that the changes you make are helping students to learn, and continue to do that down the road.
  • It is a good idea to get a sense of your assessment timeline. Your timeline for course-level assessment is going to depend on how frequently the course you are assessing is offered. It is recommended that, even with an infrequently offered course, that you not go beyond three years without assessing some of your learning outcomes.


Developing a Written Assessment Plan

Answering the above questions are accomplished more formally by developing and implementing an assessment plan, and using and reevaluating findings and evidence about student learning regularly and systematically. Oftentimes, the assessment plan can also be used when preparing an assessment report, but the plan does not necessarily have to be intended for other people to review the results of your assessment project. An assessment plan is a blueprint for how a course will be assessed or evaluated over time, to determine whether students are achieving the expected learning goals. Written assessment plans typically have the following key components:

  • Goals and outcomes - The broad learning goals for the course should be stated separately. Each goal will also have associated learning outcomes that are more specific and easier to measure, and which together help assess the broader goal.
  • Methods for assessing goals and outcomes - Methods are the procedure used to determine if students have met the learning outcome. Indicate the method, or means, by which the quality of student learning for each goal and associated outcome will be measured and assessed. The same method, such as a survey or a paper in a capstone course, could be used to assess multiple goals. If so, the same method should be aligned with each goal or outcome it is used to assess. Sometimes all of the measures for several outcomes together can provide a means for assessing a broader goal. Multiple measures may be used to assess a single goal or outcome. If so, all of the methods used to assess that goal or outcome should be aligned with the means/measures for that goal or outcome.
  • Criteria - The criteria are the standards that will be used to determine if students in the course achieved the expected learning goals and outcomes. Criteria should be established for each goal and outcome, and ideally would include both minimum and aspirational levels to assess their success.
  • Use of information - How information and evidence gathered about student learning will be evaluated, whether it will be shared regularly and with whom, and how it will be employed systematically to improve learning outcomes, should be planned and specified. How the information will be used is often the same for evidence collected for all goals and outcomes, but could vary for selected goals and data.
  • Implementation schedule - The implementation schedule indicates the expected time frame assessment of a goal or outcome will be initiated and continued, as well as the frequency of assessment. Some assessment projects take place over a multi-year period while others may take place within a single year. However, since assessment tends to be part of an iterative process, it can often be a valuable exercise to think how the assessment plan can fit in to a larger time frame. It is also important to re-assess course elements that have been changed based on assessment data to see whether those changes have improved student learning in relation to the learning outcomes.

The Assessment Planning Form can be used as a worksheet to help you develop your own assessment plan.