Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education

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Section 1

Section 2
Background and Rationale for Assessment

Section 3
Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Section 4
Assessment Tools and Data

Section 5
Course Assessment

Section 6
Program Assessment
Setting the Stage
Defining Programs
Program SLOs
General Education Programs
Program Assessment Tools
Homegrown Program Assessment Tools
Program/Course Matrix
Program Review and Program Assessment
Sample Program Assessment Reports


Section 7
Closing the Loop

Section 8
Implementing Assessment Training on Campus


Section 9
References & Resources



Using Materials from this Website



Program Assessment Tools - Direct Standardized Options

Refer to Section 4 to review the types of assessment tools and the importance of validity and reliability when selecting a tool. Program assessment tools are used to compare outcomes over a series of courses and a variety of course sections. Many programs consider standardized assessment tools to assess cognitive skills, thereby decreasing the time involved in creating a tool and achieving agreement. Standardized tools allow programs to compare themselves across institutions but are sometimes limited to cognitive skills and require close examination for content validity. Many commercial sources for these tools exist including professional organizations and the Educational Testing Service.

One useful standardized technique than can be applied with minimal additional cost and effort is to retest a sample set of students using the pre-collegiate assessment tools or placement exams (such as math, English, or General Education). Be sure that using an exam truly tests the information relevant to the SLOs and that the data provides information that can be used to improve learning.

Vocational programs often have the advantage of standardized licensing exams as terminal assessments. These exams are excellent sources of assessment; however translating the results into useful modifications for improving learning is a challenge.

In addition to the terminal licensing exam, Bakersfield College Nursing program uses an assessment test for entering students to assess weaknesses and determine areas requiring tutoring. The exam includes math, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and other relevant pre-requisite knowledge. The biology department hoped to use this standardized testing data as a summative assessment for the pre-allied health students. Upon examination we discovered the exam only asked 3 or 4 questions in each topic area; students received scores of 33%, 66% or 100% in some areas. This information was too general and too dependent upon content and question construction to be useful to the biology department needs, but provides excellent baseline information for the nursing program.

Homegrown assessment tools can be designed for program assessment in the same way that it can be developed for courses.

Program Assessment Tools- Indirect Program Assessment

Best practices in assessment indicate that multiple methods and a variety of data should be built in to the assessment plan. Direct measures provide excellent information about the learned curriculum, coupling information from indirect assessment data often provides information on the effect of those changes and how well students are able to integrate and apply information outside of the classroom.

Methods of program assessment include:


External reviewers - sharing information and artifacts with people in other institutions, professional organizations, or advisory committees.


Student Satisfaction Surveys


Exit Interviews


Alumni Surveys


Employer Surveys


Graduate School Records


Data on awards granted, retention, success and other overall program data


Proceed to Program Assessment Tools-Local Assessment Tools

Resources and Links


List of Existing  Assessment tests approved by the CCCCO  Chancellor's Office

NPEC Sourcebook on Assessment: Vol 1 Definitions and Assessment for Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Writing. Erwin, 2000

Educational Testing Service

Sample Student Service Program Assessment Tools


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