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? - Accountability

In 1998, the California Legislature, in partnership with the California Community College Chancellor's office, legislated performance-based funding for the California Community College system called Partnership for Excellence (PFE). Performance-based funding requires output in order to gain input (funding). The output identified by PFE was increased performance on the following statistical data:

bulletnumbers of transfer students
bulletdegrees and certificates
bulletsuccessful course completions
bulletcompleted workforce development training
bulletimprovement in basic skills

California was not alone, nor the originator of this funding for performance accountability. By 2000 over 37 states had legislated performance-based funding, clearly communicating the public desire for educational accountability. However, none of these legislated measures have proven successful in improving education. In fact, in some cases the effort to increase statistical measures actually placed a negative pressure on the quality of education. (See the California Academic Senate link at the right for a critique of PFE.) While performance-based funding was new to the general fund budget, assessment and accountability were not new to higher education. Grant funded initiatives and vocational programs have been producing assessment data for years to justify funding and improve effectiveness. (note: This act is scheduled to be changed or sunset in January, 2005).

Unlike the lukewarm effectiveness of performance-based funding, two influential statewide initiatives changed the educational landscape for all components of higher education in California community colleges in 2002. The new ACCJC-WASC Accreditation Standards and the California Master Plan for Education both incorporated expectations for student learning outcomes (SLOs) and assessment plans in every course and program in California community colleges  (ACCJC-WASC, 2002; California Master Plan for Education, 2002). Compared to the relatively ineffectual legislated pressures which largely addressed institutional and administrative level responsibilities, these accreditation requirements drove accountability and assessment to the level of faculty-student interaction and the classroom. This mandated faculty involvement or risked the potential for mandated external assessment as occurred in the K-12 California System. Interestingly, WASC was one of the last accrediting associations to adopt standards that focused on student learning outcomes for accreditation, but the most specific concerning the role faculty must play. Some faculty believe assessment to be a passing fad, however assessment was integrated into the other regional accreditation reviews over a decade ago. ACCJC was able to evaluate and incorporate lessons learned in other regional areas.

The underlying purpose for external requirements was to improve the quality of education. However, mandates have done little to create learning-centered improvement in education. Accreditation is an intensive peer review process, that places quality assurance firmly in the hands of educators. Response to these standards will be important aspects of retaining local peer review processes and guaranteeing quality in our unique US higher education system.

* Personal Note: There are many of us that feel assessment is beneficial and does improve education, but fear that it can be misused if implemented incorrectly. Massive standardized testing would destroy our rich and diverse higher education system. Examination of higher education systems in other countries will reveal that these systems are subject to strict control by the government and basically serve the purposes of the government.  The implementation of government controlled testing in K-12 is rife with poor educational practices. I believe if we faculty do not take this responsibility, and own it, and cooperatively lead it with our administrators, we will see more intrusive actions that will not benefit education. In fact, the accreditation associations are constantly lobbying the politicians to retain peer review. Accreditation provides a unique opportunity to define what we do and improve education.

  Proceed to Accreditation

Resources and Links

"The Partnership for Excellence program is hereby established for the purpose of

achieving annual performance goals and improving student learning and success."


Legislated Language for PFE SB1564, SEC. 35, Section 84754

The Partnership for Excellence (PFE)

Performance-Based Funding: A Faculty Critique and Action Agenda. Academic Senate of California Community Colleges



ACCJC-WASC Accreditation Standards

California Master Plan for Education


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