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Assessment Cycle for Continuous Improvement

The cycle represents the continuous nature of assessing student learning outcomes. Assessment is comprised of several steps. Check on each step below for comprehensive information and resources on each step of the assessment process.

Assessment Cycle Overview

Learning outcomes assessment is a student-oriented and faculty-led practice. It is about determining areas where students are succeeding and where they are struggling in order to seek continuous improvement in teaching and learning. Assessment gives faculty an opportunity to reflect on what happens at the course and program level, based on concrete evidence of student learning. Programs can then make informed decisions about changes intended to improve learning. The resources below give a bird’s-eye view of the process involved in learning outcomes assessment as well as important considerations for faculty to make throughout the assessment loop, from planning to implementing to analyzing assessment results and making changes.

Resources

Assessment Cycle Overview

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) articulate the knowledge, skills, and/or dispositions a student will be able to demonstrate after completing a program of study. SLOs are indispensable to curriculum design and assessment, which means that learning outcomes guide instruction from start to finish.

Curriculum maps describe how students are introduced to, practice, and gain mastery of each SLO through their coursework in a program. The curriculum map illustrates the relationship between SLOs, courses, and assessments in an educational program.

Resources:

  1. Identify outcomes: Writing and Revising SLOs
  2. Curriculum Mapping

To assess SLOs, authentic artifacts of student performance are needed. Numerous methods and tools are available for gathering and compiling evidence of student performance. It is necessary for faculty to plan ahead for what will be assessed, what evidence will be used, when data collection will take place, and who will be responsible for these tasks.

Resources:

General Overview of Assessment Methods

Direct/Embedded Assessment Methods

  1. Overview
  2. Planning ahead: targets, criteria, and rubrics
  3. Assignments: Portfolios and ePortfolios
  4. Assignment: Oral Presentations
  5. Assignment: Case Studies
  6. Assignment: Service Learning
  7. Assignment: Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)
  8. Assignment: Capstone Experiences

Indirect Assessment Methods

  1. Surveys and Questionnaires 
  2. Focus Groups 
  3. Interviews

Learning outcomes assessment offers faculty an opportunity to engage with concrete evidence of student performance and the program to reflect critically on current curriculum and teaching practices. The purpose of assessment data analysis is to identify areas where students are not meeting performance targets/thresholds, and then develop initiatives for targeted, ongoing improvement. Using assessment results to guide improvements in teaching and learning is called “closing the loop.”

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Learning outcomes assessment is an opportunity for faculty to advocate for their programs and students in an evidence-based manner. Programs should discuss assessment results at regular meetings and make collective decisions about the steps that should be taken to improve student learning. Sharing the results outside of the program leads to questions about what to share and how to share it, which merit careful reflection. The resources below can shed light on how and when to share assessment results outside of the program.

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Continuous improvement in student learning is the purpose of learning outcomes assessment. To that end, faculty leverage the insights that they gain from analyzing assessment results and sharing them with stakeholders in order to implement meaningful changes to the curriculum, instruction, student support, and other aspects of the student experience that can positively impact student performance.

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Because the purpose of learning outcomes assessment is continuous improvement, it demands a recursive, cyclical process of inquiry. Some aspects of this inquiry include:

  • Tracking changes as they are implemented
  • Evaluating the impact of those changes on student learning by re-assessing the same SLO, in the same courses, using the same methods
  • Reporting findings in the context of past assessments to show trends—including a narrative describing current results in the context of past actions, past results, and future plans for changes
  • As appropriate, considering changes to assessment methods and the revision of SLOs and curriculum maps, as a body of evidence and analysis accumulates over multiple assessment cycles

Programs will continuously implement the steps in the assessment loop as they consider the key knowledge and skills that students should develop as a result of instruction (Step 1), determine the most appropriate methods for assessing those outcomes (Step 2), collect and analyze assessment results to determine areas where students are not meeting targets (Step 3), share the results in order to identify and implement changes aimed to improve student learning (Steps 4 and 5), and evaluate the impact of those changes in later assessments (Step 6).

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