Academic Programs Assessment  - FAQ

The mission of academic program assessment is to inform decisions meant to positively impact student learning through a reflective, systematic process.

Guiding Principles:

  1. Assessment leads to program changes that promote student learning.
  2. Assessment addresses programs, not individual courses.
  3. Assessment identifies strengths and weaknesses in student learning.
  4. Assessment focuses on learning issues faculty identify as important to the program.
  5. Assessment evolves and adapts to address program/student learning needs.

This is achieved by articulating what we want our students to know, do, and value when they graduate from a program. We ensure that they are achieving that by measuring what and how well they are learning.

Program assessment looks at the quality of the program as a whole, and not individual courses, instructors or students. Program assessment seeks to understand how students do as they develop in their major.

Program assessment involves:

  1. Creating clear, appropriately rigorous learning outcomes reflective of the discipline.
  2. Creating a curriculum map that illustrates how courses in the program build on each other so that students develop the knowledge, skills and values of the major.
  3. Assessing student work throughout the program in a systematic way.
  4. Analyzing the data from assessment and using it to inform program changes to improve student learning.
  5. Reporting on those efforts to the department and the university.

The most important part of assessment is the collaboration we have with our colleagues. The discussion about the expectations we have for our students, the concerns we share about our students, and innovations we think could improve the program are central to meaningful assessment. 

A course grade indicates how well a student did on a number of measures in the class. The overall grades don’t indicate specifically what students have learned. A student may have a “B” in the class, but that doesn’t always mean B-level work was achieved for all the outcomes. In addition, other factors outside of student achievement can impact course grades such as class policies, grading scales, assignments, and other variables. Grades don’t give an accurate picture of precisely what the students have achieved.

Course grades are overall evaluation for a particular class, but assessment seeks to explain the specific areas of strengths and weaknesses.

Every program (graduate, undergraduate and certificate) participates in annual program assessment. This means every program determines what they want to assess in a given academic year, how best to assess it, and how to analyze and use that data. Every program writes an annual assessment report, due in the fall semester.

Annual reports are reviewed and feedback is provided so that programs may improve their process.

You can find assessment information at UA Assessment. Templates for reports and plans, as well as they evaluation rubric are available to download. You can also find additional resources such as rubrics, examples of different approaches, and dates for assessment workshops.

Life-long learning, civic responsibility, creativity--all of these are very hard to assess, yet we hope our graduates have these qualities. Not everything we teach can be measured. However, we can evaluate students’ ability to think critically in the discipline, to analyze and apply theory, and to problem-solve--many of the higher-level thinking skills developed throughout a program. A useful assessment program will assess the more complex outcomes in addition to essential content knowledge.

SLO’s refer to the knowledge, skills, and values students have when they complete a program. They are different from course learning outcomes. Program outcomes are often phrased as “Upon graduating from the program, students will be able to…”. For example, one SLO from the College of Business states, students will “[u]se writing skills and oral communication skills to persuade and mobilize action.”

We often have other outcomes in mind. We want students to graduate, be successful in their careers, be responsible citizens. We want our programs to grow and adapt to changes in the discipline. Often, these might be considered student goals or program goals, rather than student learning outcomes. 

Accreditors, both regional and specialized, expect to see evidence of regular program assessment. However, the goal of ensuring student success and improving our programs for our students is part of our mission and shared across campus.

Faculty are constantly evaluating their programs: what is important, what is changing, what are the students’ experiences? Where do students go when they graduate and how does their degree help them? These are all questions of assessment. The assessment process is a method of gathering and analyzing data about those questions, and using that data to improve a program. Often, faculty are doing program assessment but not recognizing it as assessment

If your students are doing very well, then celebrate! Share that information widely--on your website, with your advisory council, and with incoming students.

If your assessment results are consistently showing the same thing, year after year, and you’re confident in them, then it would be a better use of time and resources to collect different data to answer a different question. Perhaps you have been looking only at senior capstone reports, but not at sophomore writing. Maybe a change in your field or professional standards means you have to revise student learning outcomes. Perhaps you’re putting required classes online and want to see how students perform on particular tasks. All of these can be useful assessment projects. Assessment is not static. It should change to reflect faculty’s questions and concerns.

A lot of time and energy can be spent collecting and analyzing data on program outcomes every year, and then little time spent deciding what to do with it. For assessment to be more useful and more efficient, consider the following:

  1. Assess one or two outcomes every year. Start with the ones your department considers the most important, perhaps the ones about which faculty have the most questions or concerns or the ones that are hardest for students to achieve. You don’t need to assess all outcomes every year.
  2. Generally, plan on assessing all outcomes in a 3-4 year cycle.
  3. If your assessment processes are “stale” and not providing useful information, request an Assessment Consult with the Assessment Director to develop a new plan.
  4. If you have a large number of outcomes, consider ways to consolidate or revise to make assessment easier and more useful.
  5. Make sure all faculty are involved in collecting and analyzing data at some point in the assessment cycle so that the effort is not that of one person. All faculty teaching in a program should be included in the process.
  6. Devote a considerable amount of time in at least one department meeting a semester to assessment: analyzing data, considering actions to take, evaluating assignments and curriculum.

Ask for an Assessment Consult from the Assessment Director. Every program is different and the needs and resources of every program has an impact on their approach to assessment.