Skip To Main Content

You Are Here:

SLA Frequently Asked Questions

Friday, November 24, 2017

If you have a question regarding Student Learning Assessment at UA-PTC, we ask that you first check through the list of FAQ's below before giving our office a call or sending an email.

The FAQ list is organized by topic. Identify the general topic of your question, then locate the topic and scrolls through the questions. Click on the question to reveal the answer.

Student Learning Assessment Basics

1. Why Assessment?

Assessment takes place in our classrooms and labs every day. Sometimes it is formative assessment in which we do a quick check to see if students have acquired basic grasp of the skills, concepts and processes being taught. Based upon those brief checks we might decide to change our lesson plans to re-teach or build on prior knowledge in a slightly different way. We also assess as we read student papers, score student exams, or talk to colleagues about best practices. When we assess, we have identified what we want our students to know and be able to do and we follow the learning process by measuring to what degree they have attained certain skills, concepts and processes. Based upon our analysis of the data collected from those assessments, we make decisions in how best to foster student learning; we work to improve our classroom practices. Whether we are college staff providing program services or faculty providing instruction, we will engage in useful dialogue based on our assessment information to improve student services and learning. Any curricular or program changes and/or budgetary requests will be discussed through our reporting of assessment results. The College will also share this information with the stakeholders, community members, and accrediting agencies.

Routine Student Learning Assessment provides students with feedback regarding their own learning. It also provides educators with a fair and consistent measurement of student growth, while also informing us of our own instructional delivery [curriculum and instruction]. It provides student learning data for an educator’s reflection on the instructional and learning processes.

2. Why do we have to do this?

One of the primary purposes of assessment is to improve student learning. Assessment allows for evidence-based decision making regarding aspects of curriculum, instructional pedagogy, student advising and student support. At the program level, assessment provides program faculty evidence that allows them to improve program outcomes. At the course level, assessment helps instructors evaluate whether students achieved the identified course objectives and provides information to improve the course.

In addition, there are eight major drivers of Student Learning Assessment:

  • Legislative Mandates
  • Accreditation Agencies
  • Funding Agencies
  • The Age of Accountability
  • The need to provide evidence of student learning
  • The culture of shared governance
  • The need for continual improvement in instructional delivery
  • It is a part of every educator’s job description

3. What role does assessment play in our Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation?

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is responsible for making sure that the institutions in its jurisdiction are meeting the missions they describe. Accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission assures other interested parties that its institutions are engaged in on-going, authentic assessment activities, and that institutions are using the results of their Student Learning Assessment processes and data analysis activities to improve and strengthen student learning and the programs of each institution.

4. What are the benefits of assessment?

Student learning assessment at both the course and program levels can provide data that will assist instructors, program staff, and departments make informed decisions regarding program strengths and areas for improvement. In addition, the data collected for assessment can also be used for other purposes such as the college’s annual review, accrediting agencies’ evaluations, and the HLC reviews.

5. What must individual programs do for assessment?

Faculty in programs should collaboratively develop and periodically review a Student Learning Assessment Planning Form (SLAP Form). Those plans consist of the following:

Learning Outcomes that correlate to the learning objectives from the program’s courses as well as to the College’s seven Institutional Learning Outcomes;

  • A description of the assessments, authentic assessment assignment, project or assessment activity to be administered in regard to each specific learning outcome as well as a copy of those assessments, questions, student guidesheets, and the like;
  • A description of the method of measurement, to include how each will be scored and the level of attainment at which a student is considered as having accomplished the designated learning outcome;
  • A timeline for assessing each of the learning outcomes during the identified time frame; and
  • A description of how the student learning data will be analyzed.

Additionally, each program must draft a report of the results using the template developed by the Academic Assessment Committee. The report must also contain a list of recommendations for program improvement as well as identifying faculty needs in regard to improving instructional practices. The report could, also, include student work examples to underscore the results and recommendations.

6. What is required of each faculty member? Department chair? Dean?

The role played by faculty during the process of student learning assessment concerns their expertise and talent to establish and align learning outcomes to the College’s Institutional Learning outcomes and to each course’s learning objectives and assessments. Once those have been established, faculty develop and administer assessments according to their timeline, collect data and collaboratively analyze the data: discussing and reflecting upon the results in terms of how it impacts their instructional practices. Individual faculty members have multiple roles in the assessment process. They participate in committees involved in assessment at the department, division, or college institution level, working collaboratively to assure that student learning is being assessed appropriately, and that the results are being used to inform decisions about programs.

Department chairs are responsible for involving the faculty members of their department in assessment planning and implementation, and for ensuring that all Student Learning Assessment Planning Forms (SLAP Forms) are completed and remain current. In addition, Chairs must coordinate with their faculty teams to see that data is analyzed and reported on as per the timeline. Also, any specifically reported upon faculty needs (needs which, having been met, will result in the occurrence of identified instructional improvements) have been adequately addressed as the budget allows.

Deans are responsible for ensuring that the process of assessment is in place and that each department is fully engaged in assessment activities. The Dean also works with their Chairs to ensure that faculty needs identified in their assessment reports are met insofar as the budget allows.

7. When does this have to be done? How often do we have to assess the program?

Program assessment is an ongoing process of identifying learning outcomes, collecting and analyzing student learning data, and making modifications (when necessary for improvement). Faculty teams within a specific program need not assess every student learning outcome every year, but the program should have a plan for periodically assessing all identified student learning outcomes within a reasonable and previously delineated time frame. A program’s faculty might choose to adopt a process of rotating through learning outcomes on a regular schedule. Faculty teams might also opt to initially prioritize and target particular learning outcomes based upon their classroom experiences.

Because the purpose of assessment is to continually improve the quality of student learning, student learning assessment should be ongoing and useful. The HLC directs that student learning assessment should begin with the first-year experiences of undergraduates and conclude with the capstone projects or portfolios of graduating or transferring students. The time frame and scope is to be determined by what is logical and most helpful for the program’s student learning outcomes being assessed.

8. Will this involve a lot of time and extra paperwork?

Yes, faculty will need to purposefully work together (collegiality and collaboratively) to accomplish their assessment of student learning outcomes. Team meetings will need to make student learning assessment a priority. Meeting times will need to include discussion of the learning outcomes, planning time for assessment and administration of the assessments as well as faculty team meetings devoted to analyzing, discussing, reflecting on practice and reporting. The report form template as developed by the Academic Assessment Committee will be reviewed annually with revisions made based upon feedback from the faculty teams. The report is intended to provide a framework for succinct and concise reporting.

9. How can faculty add assessment to their current workloads?

Faculty members are already engaged in informal assessment of student learning. Through the development of student learning outcomes that are aligned to General Education Outcomes specific program goals, course objectives, and classroom learning activities, instructors are already actively assessing their students’ learning. In each of the College’s programs, faculty will function collectively to set student learning outcomes, to create methods and measures for collecting evidence of student attainment of those outcomes, analyze and interpret selected samples of student work. These faculty members will also collectively make programmatic decisions based on the evidence.

The initial work of developing an assessment system is the most time-consuming part of the process. Once such a system is in place and operational, the amount of time and effort will become minimal on the part of individual faculty members as the culture of assessment is internalized.

10. Does this mean I have to administer pre-tests and post tests every semester?

No. In actuality, the College’s culture of assessment has been developed upon the foundation of authentic assessment and effective instructional practices as identified by the research literature. In many cases, pre-/post testing is not the best measure of learning.

11. Does this mean I will have to administer a standardized test?

Not unless your program is required to designate such an assessment due to an accrediting association. Since student learning assessment is faculty and staff driven, a collaboratively developed decision as to what assessment methodologies will be used will power the assessment work.

12. How do students benefit from Student Learning Assessment?

As expectations are communicated through each course’s syllabus via identified learning objectives and outcomes as well as through rubrics and grading standards, students will know the expectations for performance and characteristics of evaluation. These will assist them to be more successful in their learning processes. Students will also be prompted to reflect on their learning experiences and identify potential areas of growth. College programs that provide services to students will be also assessed and analyzed systematically. Through student feedback culled from surveys, focus groups, interviews, staff will reflect upon results and develop recommendations for improving their support of students.

13. Where can I find examples of Learning Outcomes?

Review the UA-PTC’s Assessment Office website further by accessing the Student Learning Assessment Planning Forms archived on the Faculty & Staff-access only side on the Portal. Also, click on the section entitled Writing Student Learning Outcomes: A Primer for directions in how to develop learning outcomes.

14. Where can I find additional resources to help me and my team with this process?

Review the UA-PTC’s Assessment Office Web page off the UA-PTC Website as there are many resources provided there. Guides, templates, forms, contact information, and even a resources list for further in-depth reading are given.

15. Who do I contact with questions?

The Assessment Coordinator or any member of the Academic Assessment Committee. Contact information is located on the Assessment Office website under the tab entitled About Us: Location, Mission, Purpose, Guiding Precepts, and Roles.

back to top

Assessment, Student Grades and Instructor Evaluation

1. How is assessment different from evaluation?

Student Learning Assessment, though often confused with evaluation, is NOT the same! At times both processes use similar methods, they have different goals. For our UA - PTC definition of Student Learning Assessment we are informed by Suskie (2009) and Walvoord (2010) who, in essence, describe Student Learning Assessment as focusing on the work to be done, the outcomes, and the impact on students—not on the individuals doing the work. Goldman and Zakel (2009) describe assessment as the analysis and use of data by students, faculty, and/or departments to make decisions about improvements in teaching and learning.

Suskie (2009) and Walvoord (2010) describe evaluation, in essence, as focusing on the work of the individuals—their contributions, effectiveness, creativity, responsibility, engagement, or whatever factors the organization deems most desirable. According to Goldman and Zakel (2009), evaluation is an instructor’s use of data the analysis to make judgments about student performance that includes the determination of a grade or a pass/fail decision for an assignment or for an entire course.

2. Is "grading" the same as "assessment"?

No. A letter or numeric grade alone does not convey the full content of what the student has acquired in the learning process. As grading standards vary from instructor to instructor grades can, at times, be considered vague or inconsistent, therefore not sufficient for understanding whether specific learning outcomes have been adequately attained.

To be sure as a post secondary instructor you may assign a research paper and score/grade the paper using a rubric. Depending upon the level of detail and specificity to particular learning outcomes, one use of the rubric could be to simply determine how well students can search and summarize a body of literature. Also, a rubric can be used to determine what aspects of the assignment the students, as a group, do well with and what aspects they are less proficient at. When you use this information to change your teaching methods in order to improve student learning on this assignment the next time you teach the course, you are now engaged in “assessment.”

3. Are course evaluations useful for assessment?

Course evaluations are only useful for assessment if these evaluations specifically address stated student learning outcomes for the course. Most course evaluations focus on such considerations as instruction, course content, course/syllabus organization, facility, and even instructor attributes, and not on stated student learning outcomes.

4. Will assessment results be used for individual faculty evaluation?

No, not at UA-PTC. Walvoord (2004), explicitly describes assessment of student learning as a way for faculty to determine what they can do to improve student learning in their program. Whenever evidence of inadequate student learning is revealed through data analysis, faculty members should collectively and collaboratively take appropriate action to address the issues by making revisions in their material, instructional delivery and overall presentation of material.

back to top

Process of Student Learning Assessment

1. How should we begin?

The four basic student learning assessment steps are as follows:

  1. Establish clear, measurable expected outcomes of student learning
  2. Ensure that students have sufficient opportunities to achieve those outcomes
  3. Systematically gather, analyze, and interpret evidence to determine how well student learning matches the stated expectations
  4. Use the results of the analyses to understand and improve student learning

A good way to start the student learning assessment process is to visit the UA-PTC Assessment Office Web page and Portal, organize the instructors within your program into a collaborative team and meet with the UA-PTC Assessment Coordinator. The Assessment Coordinator will walk you through every step of the process throughout the first year and then work alongside your team as they gain expertise and experience.

back to top

Getting Started

1. Where do I find further information and forms?

All UA-PTC Forms and materials to assist you and your program team in the Student Learning Assessment process can be found here on this Assessment Web page.

2. I am a new instructor to UA-PTC what do I need to do?

First, your Chair and/or Dean should have spent some time explaining to you where UA-PTC is at in institutionalizing the Student Learning Assessment process. Once you understand where your particular program is at in the Student Learning Assessment process, you should next be given the documentation already developed in regard to the specific program in which you instruct. Once you have that documentation and have taken the time to read and review it, you should be able to that first semester engage in the data collection process and then work collaboratively with your colleagues in the data analysis procedures. If after receiving the aforementioned documents, you require additional coaching, do not hesitate to contact the Assessment Coordinator.

back to top

Learning Outcomes

1. What are Learning Outcomes?

Basically, Learning Outcomes are the results of instruction and learning. Learning outcomes are explicit statements describing concepts, skills, abilities, attitudes, and processes that a student will be able to demonstrate at the end (or as a result) of his or her engagement in a particular lesson, course, program, or experience. For a thorough understanding of how to craft a measurable and aligned Learning Outcome, see the UA-PTC Website’s Assessment Page and the link titled Writing Student Learning Outcomes: A Primer. Remember when developing learning outcomes for the Student Learning Assessment Process, here at UA-PTC faculty and staff use a team approach to collectively and collaboratively work through the process.

2. What characterizes an effective statement of a Learning Outcome?

Learning outcomes are focused on the most important overall goals of a course or program. These learning outcomes explicitly consider learning as a multi-dimensional process incorporating higher-order thinking skills.

3. What counts as evidence of student learning?

Evidence of student learning can be approached in a variety of ways. When the student evidence to be collected is clearly and purposefully related to the learning outcomes being assessed, the instructor will more clearly see the impacts of instructional practices. The student learning evidence collected could include examinations, writing samples, presentations, artistic performances, research projects, field work, authentic learning assessments, internships, or service learning.

back to top

Assessments

1. What is assessment?

Assessment is a very broad term that can have very different meanings depending on the context. Assessment is a systematic collection of student data for the purposes of determining progress in learning. Student Learning Assessment, though often confused with evaluation, is NOT the same! For our UA-PTC definition of Student Learning Assessment we are informed by Suskie (2009) and Walvoord (2010) who, in essence, describe Student Learning Assessment as focusing on the work to be done, the outcomes, and the impact on students—not on the individuals doing the work. Goldman and Zakel (2009) describe assessment as the analysis and use of data by students, faculty, and/or departments to make decisions about improvements in teaching and learning.

2. Why aren’t course grades adequate indicators for program assessment?

  • Course letter grades are insufficient for program assessment for the following reasons:
  • Grades are a composite of a student’s achievement of course outcomes and do not differentiate achievement by course objective.
  • Course grades reflect only generally in a very broad way that students have achieved a majority of what was required to be learned in order to be considered proficient in a single course. Exactly what they do and do not know has not been detailed out by the overall grade.
  • Grades alone do not indicate exactly what students have and have not learned (Suskie, 2009).
  • Grades reflect the evaluation practices, policies, and criteria unique to each individual instructors.
  • Faculty teaching the same course may teach different material and/or may emphasize different course objectives which is difficult to distinguish with 1 letter or percentage grade.

Graded course work that relates directly to achievement of learning outcomes is an excellent source of direct evidence for assessment.

3. Do you have a good example of assessment from my field?

You can look up on the Web many examples of Learning Outcomes and Student Learning Assessment particular to a program similar to the one in which you instruct. It is typically useful to browse through a variety of these examples, but do keep in mind that the best assessment will be what is most useful to your faculty team.

4. When should I assess student learning?

An integral part of the teaching and learning process, assessment should be a routine aspect of your instruction. If assessment is a part of your everyday processes, the results of assessment will be useful. The scope and timing of your assessment efforts (whether formative or summative) should be logical and appropriate to your learning outcomes. Because one purpose of assessment is to improve the quality of student learning through instructional practice, it's essential that assessment be ongoing and useful. Do not try to assess every learning outcome at once. It is best to focus on a small number of learning outcomes at a time.

5. What are some examples of assessment methods?

Good assessment practices use multiple measures. Assessment can be either formative or summative. Formative assessment is a way to monitor student learning by providing ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. Summative assessment seeks to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

Dependent upon how student learning evidence is collected, student learning evidence can be considered either a direct or indirect measure. Direct measures of student learning evidence documents students’ performance of a learning objective. For example, when students have produced a “product” such as a written, spoken, performed, or created work, and that product is a direct result of the students’ learning experience, we can call it “direct” evidence.

Examples of direct evidence of student learning are provided below in no particular order:

  • Exit exams
  • Professional certification tests
  • Standardized field tests
  • Standardized examinations
  • Locally developed common exams (a course exam)
  • Oral/written exams scored with a common rubric
  • Projects/Products scored with a rubric
  • Reviews or evaluations by an external examiner
  • Portfolios analyzed or scored with a common rubric
  • Final papers analyzed or scored with a common rubric
  • Employer ratings of skills of recent graduates
  • Student reflections analyzed with a common rubric

When evidence of student learning is not the direct result of students’ learning experiences, we call it indirect evidence. Indirect evidence is most useful when it is combined with direct evidence as each measure supports and confirms the conclusions of the other. However, on their own, evidence gathered from indirect measures may not be accurate representations of what students have learned.

Examples of indirect evidence of student learning are provided below in no particular order:

  • Focus groups
  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Satisfaction or attitudinal student surveys
  • Course grades
  • Individual assignment grades
  • Admission rates into a particular program
  • Employment placement rates
  • Student self-rating surveys of their knowledge and skills
  • Exit surveys
  • Performance appraisals
  • Capstone Experiences that make use of any of the above items

back to top

Data Collection and Analysis

1. What kinds of evidence of student learning are useful in the UA - PTC Student Learning Assessment process?

Evidence should focus on higher-order thinking skill levels. Direct evidence, in which students demonstrate a capability, skill, or habit of mind, is generally considered the strongest (Suskie, 2009). Examples include analyses of student work—such as exams, papers, presentations, performances, research projects, and field work; standardized tests of disciplinary knowledge; observations of students performing or executing a task; and even pre- and post-program tests (Though in most cases here at UA-PTC, pre-/post testing is note encouraged). Surveys in which students report on their abilities or skills, graduation rates, and the number of students progressing to advanced degrees are considered indirect evidence, and should be combined with results from direct measures.

2. How is assessment evidence gathered?

Intentional, systematic data collection is the norm here at UA-PTC. Every program offered at UA-PTC contains within its Student Learning Assessment Planning Form (SLAP Form) information regarding how student learning data is collected, by what means, by what instrument(s), and frequency. This is then followed by a set of collectively derived procedures to be followed by the faculty team to review, score and analyze the data. Once this procedure has been completed, the faculty team takes time to reflect upon the results before drafting a report of findings along with their recommendations for improving instruction.

3. What is done with collected assessment data?

At the center of assessment is the improvement of student learning. This is accomplished at UA-PTC by having the faculty teams collectively analyze the data and reflect upon the results. After reflection, a report of findings along with the team’s recommendations for improving instruction are drafted. These results are shared and discussed with the UA-PTC campus community in annual gatherings organized campus-wide and by discipline. At various phases of the Student Learning Assessment process, learning outcomes, methods and measures, results, and feedback are shared with different stakeholders as appropriate.

Assessment data are used to improve student learning or to advocate for resources to improve instruction and student learning. The Student Learning Assessment process for each program are shared publicly on the UA-PTC Assessment Office Web and Portal pages. Departments and programs will describe methods, measures, and specific assessments for each learning outcome on the pass-word protected, Portal web page, so that departments and programs can learn from one another.

Results and recommendations will remain within each department and program. The reports will be shared with the Assessment Committee and compiled by the Assessment Coordinator annually into a report. Reports will follow the Report Form Template accessible on the Assessment Office’s Portal Page.

In the Recommendations section of the Report Form Template, programs can use the data results to make specific recommendations for instructional changes. The Recommendations may also include requests for resources to be used to purchase equipment, technology tools, program materials or other resources that will serve to improve instructional practices which are intended to positively impact student learning. As faculty in programs learn more about the strengths and weaknesses in their students’ learning, they will be able to allocate resources in more intentional and impactful ways.

back to top

Reporting Results

1. What should a completed Student Learning Assessment Report of Results Form look like (format, length, content)?

The Student Learning Assessment Report Form Template can be located on the Assessment Office Web page. Download the template and follow the directions. In general, the report should include a program information, identify the learning outcomes selected for assessment (data collection, data analyses and reporting), and method(s) for measuring the learning outcomes (as per the Student Learning Assessment Planning Form (SLAP Form) that is on file in the Portal Assessment Tab. The report should include the results and recommendations for instructional improvements. See Student Learning Assessment Report Form Template.

2. What do we do with assessment data?

As part of the Student Learning Assessment process, instructors should do the following:

  • Inform students as to how they are doing;
  • Show faculty and staff how we are doing across course sections, programs and the college;
  • Make the changes in instructional practice or continue successful practices as cited in the Recommendations section of the report;
  • Use it for a chance to improve instruction and incorporate best practices into your own instructional tool kit;
  • Relate findings to other Institutional Effectiveness measures
  • Report data for national accreditation via Academic Quality Improvement Project (AQIP)

3. What will happen to programs (or parts of programs) that find, as a result of their assessment activities, that they are adequately addressing their learning outcomes and meeting their program goals?

We as a division and college will celebrate! Our successes can be used to promote the program to our stakeholders. These successes can also be used in campus recruitment efforts for new students, and they can be held up as exemplars of academic excellence to the greater post secondary community.

4. What will happen to programs (or parts of programs) that find, as a result of their assessment activities, that they are deficient in addressing their learning outcomes and/or meeting their program goals?

Through collective reflection, faculty who teach in these programs will ask themselves and each other where they should will instructional improvements. By critically reviewing their instructional methods, faculty can use the data to request resources demonstrated within the research literature to strengthen similar programs. The faculty can work with administration and the Assessment Committee to seek out ways to strengthen and improve instruction.