Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education

 Section 1

Section 2
  Background  Survey
 What is Assessment?
Why Assessment?
Educational Improvement
Formative Feedback
Learning Paradigm
Prompting Learning

Section 3
Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Section 4
Assessment Tools and Data

Section 5
Course Assessment

Section 6
Program Assessment


Section 7
Closing the Loop

Section 8
Implementing Assessment Training on Campus


Section 9
References & Resources



Using Materials from this Website

Why Assessment?

The literature describes three main purposes for assessment.


Assessment for accountability


Assessment to improve learning


Assessment as a tool for learning

Annually billions of public tax dollars are invested in higher education based upon the belief that education is a key factor in the health and economics of any country, state, or individual. However public demands for accountability have resulted in major concerns about the quality of American higher education. In 1983 a U.S. Department of Education report called A Nation at Risk proclaimed,

"Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that under girds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur--others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament." (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983, p. 5)

Subsequent to this report and further fueled by rising costs in higher education, external measures to ensure quality education were adopted and in some states legislated. These external pressures for accountability came in several forms: changes in accreditation standards, new tougher expectations by grant funding agencies, and the genesis of performance-based funding by state legislative bodies.

* Personal Note: No one likes to prove that what they are doing is significant and effective, why can't people just see that? Unfortunately, we are accountable for the money invested in education. We all want accountability when it comes to our own or family member's education. Teachers often operate on a "gut feeling" about what is effective in classrooms; assessment provides an opportunity to do that in a reasoned way. Getting the data takes some work, but for me, it has provided valuable insights, a few surprises, and confirmation concerning what I do with students. (More on this in Section 5).

Proceed to Accountability

Resources and Links

Demands for Accountability
Greater Expectations
American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)

A Nation at Risk
National Commission on Excellence in Education

Costs of Higher Education
by Johnstone

The Rising Price of Higher Education by Trombley


Janet Fulks ( & Kate Pluta (
Assessing Student Learning in Community Colleges (2004), Bakersfield College