Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education

Section 1

Section 2
 Background and Rationale for Assessment

Section 3
 Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)
Defining SLOs
Defining Terms
Objectives & SLOs
Sample SLOs
SLOs & Learning Domains
Writing SLOs
Evaluate the section

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

The Language of Assessment

Dr. Douglas Eder from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville does a terrific activity concerning assessment at workshops. He has everyone close their eyes and remember the first image that comes to mind when he says the word DOG. He then asks the audience what images came to mind.

Some see large golden retrievers, others see curly little poodles; as you might imagine many people remember their own dog or an outstanding dog incident. Then he asks, "Did anyone see something that was not a dog?" In fact, some do. Some see cats and other related artifacts. One faculty member reluctantly shared that she had seen a pile of poop.

Dr. Eder concludes by sharing that DOG is one of the first ten words most humans learn and yet there is relatively little similarity between the images and meaning faculty attach to that simple word. How much more significant might those differences be when it comes to educational vocabulary relating to assessment.

Assessment practitioners have proposed a common set of definitions in order to help facilitate communication.

Outcomes - something that happens to an individual student as a result of attendance at a higher education institution.

Learning - particular levels of knowledge, skills, and abilities that a student has attained at the end of engagement in a particular set of collegiate experiences.

Knowledge - particular areas of disciplinary or professional content that students can recall, relate, and appropriately deploy.

Skills - the learned capacity to do something.

Attitudinal outcomes - changes in beliefs or development of certain values.

Abilities - the integration of knowledge, skills, and attitudes in complex ways that require multiple elements of learning.

Competencies - the specific level of performance that students are expected to master.

Now reread our definition of SLOS with the above definitions in mind.

Student learning outcomes are the specific measurable goals and results that are expected subsequent to a learning experience. These outcomes may involve knowledge (cognitive), skills (behavioral), or attitudes (affective) that display evidence that learning has occurred, at a specified level of competency, as a result of a course or program. Learning outcomes are clear and assessable statements that define what a student is able to DO at the completion of a course or program.

Other important descriptions are accessible at the link marked Definitions. Occasionally important words will be linked to these definitions for easy access and consistency.

Proceed to SLOs and objectives

Resources and Links



Beyond Confusion: An Assessment Glossary by Leskes of the AAC&U


State-based approaches to assessment in undergraduate education: A glossary and selected references.
Boyer & Ewell, 1988.


These proposed standard definitions are from Peter Ewell as described by John Nichols in  Report from the Project on Accreditation and Assessment.





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