Assessment, CSU, Chico

Strategies for Assessing Learning Outcomes

In general the strategies used to do the assessment are largely addressed in how to conduct the assessment and are one key component in the planning process. Overall the strategies are classified as direct (where actual student behavior is measured or assessed) or indirect. Indirect measures include things like surveys, focus groups, and other activities that gather impressions or opinions about the program and/or its learning goals. Direct measures are most effective if they are also course-embedded which means the work done by the student is actually work that counts towards the grade. Most studies that look at assessment data show that if the student work is also used in the grading criteria the student takes the activity more seriously.

While indirect measures can be useful, assessment of learning must include mostly direct measures. This is increasingly the mandate from accrediting agencies including WASC.

The following examples of strategies (from a working paper by Corbitt, Gardiner and Adams - Program Assessment: Getting to a Practical “How To” Model) address general comments about different methods to do assessment of learning. It is also acceptable and often good to have multiple measures for the same goal. For example, as a result of an assessment of critical thinking, focus group discussion could be used to learn more about how the students viewed the assignment, etc.

  1. Exit Exams – Direct assessments administered at the end of the program. The ETS Major Field test is an example. The advantages of exams are that third-party, off-the-shelf instruments are available and they can provide peer school comparisons. The disadvantages include the high cost, asking students to do additional work, ensuring that students give their best efforts (if the test is not graded or part of a graded course), lack of actionable results, difficulty in assessing specific SLOs such as writing or oral presentation skills, and lack of tests which match a school’s unique mission and learning goals.
  2. Survey – An indirect measure of assessing student progress on learning goals through the use of attitudinal surveys. The Educational Benchmarking, Inc. Management Education Exit Assessment survey is an example. The advantages of surveys are that third-party, off-the-shelf instruments are available and results can be compared with peer schools. Disadvantages include the cost, getting students to take the survey, and most importantly, the lack of direct measures of student learning. Surveys were historically the most popular assessment method for schools of business, but the AACSB has stated that direct measures must also be used.
  3. Course-embedded or performance-based – Direct program assessments based on assignments or exams students do as part of their normal coursework. Support software is extremely valuable when using this form of assessment. Advantages of course-embedded assessments include no additional assignments or work for students or faculty, a direct measure of progress on school-specific, mission-linked learning goals actually covered in the curriculum, increased involvement of faculty and students in assessment, and ability to address deficiencies in individual student learning before graduation. The primary disadvantage is the time necessary to develop the assessment systems as well as the administrative time to collect and analyze the assessment data collected.
  4. Course monitoring – In addition to other assessment methods, course syllabi, exams, projects, etc. should be systematically and regularly monitored to see how class coverage aligns with SLOs.