Accreditation – Accreditation is a process that institutions undergo to determine whether they meet or exceed standards of quality and integrity. It is a marker of quality that students can use in determining acceptable institutions for enrollment, and it is referenced by institutions in determining acceptability of transfer credits. Accreditation by the U.S. Department of Education is required for institutions to accept federal student aid in the form of Title IV funding. NOVA is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC; see definition below).

Action Plan – A plan that focuses on how programs/disciplines will improve student mastery of a Student Learning Outcome (SLO) or Core Learning Outcome (CLO), based on assessment results. It also includes a list of changes to be made as well as when and who will implement the plan.

Annual Planning and Evaluation Report (APER) for Instructional Programs – A compilation of educational program reports that provide information to the College and the public about the assessment of student learning at NOVA. These reports also demonstrate to SACSCOC and the public institutional effectiveness and continuous improvement. Programs report on expected outcomes, measures, targets, acceptable thresholds, results, use of results, and actions to improve student learning. The APER is made up of the following sections, which are defined in this glossary: Program Purpose Statement, Assessment Methods, Assessment Results, Use of Results, and Program Goals.

Assessment – The collection, review, and use of data to aid in the improvement of student learning and educational programs/disciplines. Assessment is a process that includes faculty-developed expected outcomes, appropriate measures and materials that fit the outcomes, and the determination of how well students are meeting the outcomes based upon data collected via the measures used.

Assessment Cycle – The regular cycle of assessment conducted by all degree-granting programs, select certificates, and disciplines each academic year. NOVA requires educational programs to assess at least three Student Learning Outcome (SLOs) and one Core Learning Outcome (CLO) per year. It is recommended that each SLO/CLO is assessed at least 2-3 times during a 10-year period. Educational programs also review two program goals each year, one on graduation rates and the other on program-placement rates. Disciplines submit one SLO and one CLO annually. The CLO assessment cycle is as follows:

Core Learning Outcomes Assessment Schedule

CLO 2022-2023 2023-2024 2024-2025 2025-2026 2026-2027 2027-2028
Civic Engagement X X
Critical Thinking X X
Professional Readiness X X
Quantitative Literacy X X
Scientific Literacy X X
Written Communication X X

Assessment Methods – This section of the Annual Planning and Evaluation Report for instructional programs discusses the assessments used for each SLO. Methods include strategies, techniques, tools, assignments, and instruments for collecting information to determine the extent to which students demonstrate the desired learning outcomes. They are used to answer the question: How did we assess the SLO/CLO?

Assessment Results – This is a section of the Annual Planning and Evaluation Report for Instructional programs. The programs report on the results of the assessment. Programs answer the following questions: When did we assess a particular SLO/CLO; what did we find out; how do these results compare to previous results; and what areas are students meeting the target and not meeting the target? The results allow programs/disciplines to decide upon an action plan (see definition) for the next assessment cycle.

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy The taxonomy describes the six levels of cognitive learning according to the revised version. Each level is conceptually different. The six levels are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. The revised taxonomy provides language and action verbs that can be used for Student Learning Outcomes. Programs should primarily write Student Learning Outcomes at the levels of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Closing the Loop The process of reviewing and interpreting assessment results, recommending actions, making changes, and measuring the effectiveness of changes through re-assessment of outcomes. Closing the loop ensures that programs apply what they have learned from assessments to improve student learning and the program as a whole.

Core Learning Outcomes (CLOs) – see General Education Competencies/CLOs definition below.

Core Learning Outcomes Report – A compilation of educational program and discipline reports that demonstrate to SACSCOC institutional effectiveness and continuous improvement. Programs and disciplines report on expected outcomes, measures, targets, acceptable thresholds, results, use of results, and actions of improvement to better student learning.

Course Embedded Assessments – Assignments, activities, or exercises that are completed as part of a course and are used to provide assessment data about a particular learning outcome. Best practice currently advises the use of embedded assessments over standardized tests because they are more useful to improving Student Learning Outcomes at the program and institutional level.

Course Objectives – The learning goals of individual courses. Course objectives collectively provide knowledge and skills that contribute to students’ mastery of the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) for a program/discipline.

Criteria – The individual components that are assessed as part of a Student Learning Outcome. Educational programs can break down the SLO into criteria and evaluate student’s mastery of each of these individual criteria. Programs are required to report on overall assessment results as well as individual criteria results in the Annual Planning and Evaluation Report for Instructional Programs. Criteria can be thought of as the items on a grading rubric that factor into the total assessment grade. Programs can determine the areas where students are struggling and succeeding based on analysis of the criteria scores.

Component – see Criteria definition.

Curriculum Map – A tool that illustrates the relationship between Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), courses, and assessments in an educational program. Programs indicate which course(s) address each of the SLOs, the proficiency level achieved in the course (i.e., whether students were introduced to the SLO in that course, whether they practiced the SLO, and/or whether they can demonstrate mastery), and the method of assessment for each SLO. Provided below is a sample of a curriculum map:

Course # Course # Course # Course #
Course Name Course Name Course Name Course Name
Hands-on performance
Create original work
Written job plan

Direct Measure – An assessment that requires students to demonstrate first-hand knowledge and skills. SLO and CLO assessment plans must include direct measures for all SLOs and CLOs. Examples: exams, journals, lab notes, artwork, etc.

General Education Courses – Core academic subjects (e.g. English, Mathematics, History, Science, etc.) that “as an integrated and cohesive whole, provides the educational foundation necessary to promote intellectual and personal development” (Virginia Community College System Policy Manual).

General Education Competencies/CLOs – Knowledge, skills, and abilities that graduates from Virginia Community Colleges gain during their studies to pursue further education and careers, develop academically and professionally, and contribute to their community. Upon completion of the associate degree, graduates of Virginia’s Community Colleges will demonstrate competency in six Core Learning Outcomes (CLOs):

  1. Civic Engagement is the ability to contribute to the civic life and well-being of local, national, and global communities as both a social responsibility and a life-long learning process. Degree graduates will demonstrate the knowledge and civic values necessary to become informed and contributing participants in a democratic society.
  2. Critical Thinking is the ability to use information, ideas and arguments from relevant perspectives to make sense of complex issues and solve problems. Degree graduates will locate, evaluate, interpret, and combine information to reach well-reasoned conclusions or solutions.
  3. Professional Readiness is the ability to work well with others and display situationally and culturally appropriate demeanor and behavior. Degree graduates will demonstrate skills important for a successful transition into the workplace and pursuit of further education.
  4. Quantitative Literacy is the ability to perform accurate calculations, interpret quantitative information, apply and analyze relevant numerical data, and use results to support conclusions. Degree graduates will calculate, interpret, and use numerical and quantitative information in a variety of settings.
  5. Scientific Literacy is the ability to apply the scientific method and related concepts and principles to make informed decisions and engage with issues related to the natural, physical, and social world. Degree graduates will recognize and know how to use the scientific method, and to evaluate empirical information.
  6. Written Communication is the ability to develop, convey, and exchange ideas in writing, as appropriate to a given context and audience. Degree graduates will express themselves effectively in a variety of written forms.

Embedded Assessments – Also known as “Course Embedded Assessments” (see definition).

Indirect Measures – Instruments that gather perceptions, opinions, and/or reflections on learning rather than direct demonstrations of the results of learning. Indirect measures can be used in conjunction with direct measures to provide insights into the results. Examples: surveys, self-assessment, or peer evaluation.

Modality – The form of course delivery, i.e., in person, online, hybrid, dual enrollment, etc.

Mission Statement – A statement in which all aspects of the institution’s functions are stated. The mission statement serves as a basis for evaluating institutional effectiveness.

NOVA Mission Statement – “With commitment to the values of access, opportunity, student success, and excellence, the mission of Northern Virginia Community College is to deliver world-class in-person and online post-secondary teaching, learning, and workforce development to ensure our region and the Commonwealth of Virginia have an educated population and globally competitive workforce.”

Outcomes Based Assessment – Assessment that measures whether students have achieved the stated learning outcomes of an educational program. The results are then used to answer: What can we do to improve student learning based upon the assessment results?

Previous Actions – Actions that the program/discipline has implemented since the previous assessment of the SLO/CLO (prior to the current assessment) to improve student learning. Includes when (semester/year) the previous action was implemented.

Program Goals – This is a section of the Annual Planning and Evaluation Report for Instructional Programs. Programs must report on two program goals: graduation and program placement totals, along with the actions that they will take to improve these goals.

Program Purpose Statement - A declarative sentence that summarizes the curriculum and objectives of a program, to give the reader an accurate, concrete understanding of what he/she can gain from completing it. This can be found in the course catalog.

Rubric – A criterion-based scoring guide that lists one or more criteria or categories, and identifies levels of performance of each criteria/category.

Sample – A subset of course sections and students that are assessed in cases where educational programs do not assess all sections offered in a given term. When programs want to report on a sample of students, they must contact the Office of Academic Assessment to request a sample. In general, programs report on one-third of sections offered in cases where courses have large numbers of sections.

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) – Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is recognized by the United States Department of Education as an institutional accreditor. Northern Virginia Community College is accredited by SACSCOC and must uphold its educational and operational standards. In order to be accredited, institutions have to demonstrate continuous improvement of its effectiveness, its enhancement of educational quality, and meet other standards set by SACSCOC.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) – The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is the state-level regulatory body of institutions of higher education in Virginia, and is responsible for determining educational goals/policies for these institutions in the state of Virginia. Northern Virginia Community College is approved to operate as an institution of higher education in the State of Virginia by SCHEV.

Sequence Courses –Courses that are meant to be taken in a specific order, as the earlier courses are generally prerequisites for later courses. Example: CHM 111 and CHM 112.

Standardized Assessment – A common assessment (e.g., test, assignment, project) that is developed by the program for use by every faculty member in the program to monitor standards and ensure consistent and reliable assessment decisions. The assessment may be used course-wide (e.g., a standardized exam/project for all sections of the same course) or program-wide (e.g., a capstone project required for each student to complete in order to graduate). The difference between a nationally-recognized standardized test and a program-specific standardized test is that the program develops and implements the latter internally Both types of standardized tests could be used as measures for different learning outcomes.

Standardized Test (Nationally Recognized) – A test that is administered, measured, and scored in a consistent and standard manner. Standardized scores (e.g. mean, standard deviation, percentiles) have been developed by the test creators so that national scores can be compared to the group who took the same test. Examples: certificate exams, SAT, GRE, LSAT, etc.

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) – Observable and measurable knowledge, skills, and attitudes/values that students should achieve by the end of an educational program at NOVA. SLOs are educational outcomes at the program/discipline level that students achieve as a result of completing the program of study.

Subscore – see Criteria definition.

Target – A target is a specific percentage, number score, or grade on an assignment that the program/discipline aims for students to achieve. Targets are also often called “Thresholds.” Targets are typically written one of two ways:

  1. As an average/mean (e.g., “Students will score at or above 70%”) or;
  2. As a two-criterion target (e.g., “80% of students will earn 70% or better”).

Use of Results – This is a section of the Annual Planning and Evaluation Report for Instructional Programs that discusses the changes a program makes as a result of the assessments in order to improve student learning. After assessment results are collected and analyzed, programs determine the strengths and areas for improvement to the program and student learning, and develop an action plan (see definition) for the next assessment cycle. The action plan should describe the changes that are planned as well as the semester in which the changes will be implemented.

Virginia Community College System (VCCS): The Virginia Community College System is made up of 23 community colleges across the Commonwealth of Virginia, including Northern Virginia Community College.