Yes and no. While course grades indicate how well students have done on a number of measures in the class, the overall grades don’t indicate specifically how well students performed in relation to specific program-wide Learning Outcomes. For example, a student may earn a “B” in the class, but do D or A level work on some outcomes. In addition, factors outside of student achievement might impact the course grade, such as class policies, grading scales, attendance, and other variables. In other words, individual course grades don’t give an accurate picture of precisely what students have achieved in terms of program-level outcomes.
Course grades provide an overall evaluation for a particular class, but program assessment seeks to explain the specific areas of strengths and weaknesses.
Please visit our Assessment Process page to read more.
At a high level, 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.
Please navigate to our Forms and Templates page. Templates for reports and plans, as well as the rubrics used to evaluate and provide feedback on each, are available to download. Customized templates for each college are also available in the Assessment Archives.
In the appendix of each template, you will find detailed instructions on how to complete your plan or report, as well as specific examples with suggestions about what to include. When you are ready to submit, go to your college’s Assessment Archive [link], click on the “Assignments” tab on the top toolbar, and upload your file(s) to the drop-box created for your program.
Not every aspect of learning can be measured. What do we do about the hard or impossible to measure?
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.
Our co-curricular assessments also address some of these more conceptual yet foundational qualities, such as “life-long learning,” career-readiness, and civic engagement. At UA we support the integration of academic and co-curricular activities and learning outcomes.
SLOs refer to the knowledge, skills, and values students have when they complete a program. They are different from course-level 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, and be responsible citizens. Thus, we want our programs to grow and adapt to changes in the discipline. 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 is 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 of using that data to improve a program. Often, faculty are doing program assessment but not recognizing it as such.
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 it’s time 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:
- 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.
- Generally, plan on assessing all outcomes in a 3-4 year cycle.
- If your assessment processes are “stale” and not providing useful information, request an Assessment Consultwith the Assessment Director to develop a new plan.
- If you have a large number of outcomes, consider ways to consolidate or revise to make assessment easier and more useful.
- 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.
- 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.