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Home > About NOVA > Directories & Offices > Administrative Offices > Academic Assessment > Program Evaluation > Appendix B

Assessment Methods

Assessment of Student learning Outcomes

There are many techniques that may be used to assess student learning outcomes. In a number of cases, these assessment techniques may be embedded in course assignments or activities as measures of students' achievement of program goals as well as their attainment of the college's general education goals.

Capstone Courses
Capstone courses are designed to enable students to review, evaluate, integrate, and synthesize information and skills gained from other courses in the program or major. These courses are the optimum place to assess many program or major goals and general education goals.

Internships, Field Experiences, Clinical Evaluations
Internships, field, or clinical experiences are also ideal for assessing many program or major and general education goals. When these occur at the end of the program or major, they often serve as capstone experiences. It is especially useful to have external experts assess the performance of your students.

Authentic Assessment
In some courses, opportunities can be found to ask students to engage in a simulation of a real-life problem that they must solve using the knowledge and skills they have gained in the course. A single project can be structured to assess both mastery of course content and attainment of program or major goals as well as certain general education goals such as communication skills, life-long learning skills, critical thinking skills, and social and education values. For example, students might be asked to assume the role of a city council member who must make a decision concerning a controversial issue. Students might then be asked to research both sides of the issue and to deliver a persuasive speech or to write an action plan.

Ill-Defined or Ill-Structured Problems
An ill-defined problem is one that is not highly structured and cannot be resolved with a high degree of certainty. Experts may disagree about the best solution. Examples: determining what really happened at Waco or solving the nuclear waste storage problem or predicting the effect of global warming or deciding if there is such a thing as global warming. Dealing with ill-defined problems requires the integration of many skills, abilities, areas of knowledge.

Portfolios
An accumulation of student-produced work, a portfolio may be designed to assess a student's attainment of program or major goals. The same portfolio may also be used to assess general education goals such as communication skills or the development of skills to enhance life-long learning, such as the ability to use the library and other appropriate sources to retrieve information. Portfolios that contain early or unrevised work as well as later or revised work can assess the growth of skill development. Rubrics to judge portfolios must be clear and shared with the student.

Critiques
Projects may be presented to the class or to a panel of experts who are asked to critique the work. The critique must be based on the specific goals formulated for the project. A project may also be critiqued at various stages, for example at the beginning and intermediate stages as well as the end stage. The student presenting the project may be asked to defend the work or the critique may be used for collaborative problem solving.

Grades
Yes, you can use grades to assess student learning by using primary trait analysis (PTA) to identify the factors that count for scoring and explicitly stating the criteria for the evaluation of the assignment, project, presentation, product in the form of a rubric.

Course-Embedded Assessment
Program or major goals and general education goals may be assessed through assignments embedded in required courses. For example, writing assignments, such as summaries or reports, and oral presentations may be used to assess student' mastery of course content as well as their writing, reading, critical thinking or speaking skills and use of the library or other information source. With some planning, a single assignment or project can be designed to assess a number of different program or major goals as well as general education goals. A particularly useful book for doing course-embedded assessment is Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross.

Critical Incidents
Students can be asked to describe an incident, either real or imagined, that illustrates or illuminates key concepts or principles. An explanation of the concepts or principles illustrated should accompany the description of the incident.

Case Study
Presented with a realistic example of an application in the field, students must respond with an analysis that demonstrates their mastery of course content and their ability to apply the information and skills they have learned. A case study is an examination of a specific phenomenon such as a program, an event, a person, a process, an institution, or a social group. The end product of a case study is a rich, thick description of the phenomenon being studied that illuminates the student's understanding of the phenomenon through the application of the knowledge and skills they have gained.

Focus Groups
A focus group is an informal, small-group discussion designed to obtain in-depth qualitative information. Individuals are specifically invited to participate in a discussion focused on a restricted number of topics, usually no more than three to five. The discussion is informal as participants are encouraged to talk with each other about their experiences, preferences, needs, observations, or perceptions. The conversation is led by a moderator whose role is to foster interaction, make sure all participants are encouraged to contribute and that no one individual dominates the conservation. Working from a guide, the moderator keeps the conversation focused on the predetermined topics. A session usually lasts about ninety minutes. This assessment technique lends itself particularly well to the evaluation of students' attitudes and values.

Journals
Journals or learning logs have been used in composition courses for years as a tool for increasing student writing and motivation for writing and for assessing students' writing skills. However, a journal that focuses on students' social and educational attitudes and values may be also useful to assess students' achievement of general education goals. Journals may also be used to assess student attainment of program or major goals.

Writing Samples
Writing assignments can be used as a measure of students' mastery of course content and attainment of program or major goals. Such assignments may also be used as a direct measure of the general education communication skills goal as well as an indirect assessment of critical thinking skills. Examples of writing samples include essays, research or term papers, answers to essay questions on tests, book reports, summaries, lab reports, and the like. Writing samples can be graded holistically using a rubric.

Oral Presentations/ Oral Exams
Depending on the nature and content of the course, oral presentations can be tailored not only to assess students' mastery of course content but also their attainment of general education goals such as critical thinking, general knowledge and historical consciousness, understanding the impact of science and technology, and educational and social values. Oral presentations based on course content can be used as a direct measure of students' communication skills.

Interviews
Interviews are usually one-on-one, private, and involve fewer questions than an oral exam.

Course Tests and Exams
Common test questions drawn from course content and included on tests and exams in all sections of the course can be used to assess both program or major goals and some general education objectives.

Surveys
Surveys may be used to assess the degree to which students perceived that they have attained program or major goals as well as certain general education goals. Items that elicit this information may be included on surveys developed by program or major faculty and administered to current and/or prior students and on surveys sent to employers of program or major graduates.

Commercial Tests
Commercial tests that are nationally normed may also be used to assess students' perception of their attainment of general education goals. These tests best assess reading comprehension, critical thinking, scientific reasoning, the ability to solve math problems, and writing skills such as knowledge of grammar and correct usage. Additionally, there are major field tests that may be used to assess student learning in the major.