Resources & Workshops

There are several internal and external resources available to help programs learn about assessment:

Principles for Assessment

The University of Illinois is committed to preparing students to skillfully face challenges and opportunities through their lives, by transforming talented individuals into well-rounded citizens with strong academic backgrounds, employability in their respective fields, and the core life skills necessary for success.

The following are adaptations of the Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning provided by the American Association of Higher Education, and can be accessed hereIn some cases, the language is used verbatim, but has been modified to reflect the priorities of the University of Illinois.

  1. The assessment of student learning begins with educational values. Assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for educational improvement. Its effective practice, then, begins with identifying universal or university-wide values of student learning. These values should drive not only what we choose to assess but also how we do so. The best assessment accommodates and prioritizes overarching educational values as both the end and the means.

  2. Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, dynamic, contextual, and experiential. Learning is a complex process, including what students know and what they can do with what they know, and involves all of the knowledge and skills that promote success in and out of the classroom. Proper assessment accounts for outcomes as well as experiences that lead to those outcomes. Effective assessment accounts for the experiences of learners from a diversity of social, geographic, demographic, and economic contexts, and defines learning as both an outcome and a skill worth enacting. To aim for a more complete and accurate picture of learning, assessment should reflect a diverse array of methods that accounts for differences and highlights change over time.

  3. Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes. Assessment is a goal-oriented process. It entails comparing educational performance with educational purposes and expectations – these derived from the institution’s mission, from faculty intentions in program and course design, and from knowledge of student goals. Assessment as a process pushes a campus toward clarity about where to aim and what standards to apply; assessment also prompts attention to where and how program goals will be taught and learned. Clear, shared, implementable goals are the cornerstone for assessment that is focused and useful.

  4. Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic. Though isolated, “one-shot” assessment can be better than none, continuous improvement is best fostered when assessment entails a linked series of collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and reflecting on the data over time. Ongoing assessment activities can take many forms, such as tracking the progress of individual students or specific cohorts, sampling students in a certain course or at a certain point in their academic progress, or automating the assessment process to measure and report outcomes on a regular basis. Additionally, assessment is best practiced when the process is regularly evaluated and refined in light of changing goals, emerging methods, and new questions that surface from the results.

  5. Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved. Student learning is a campus-wide responsibility, and assessment is a principal way of enacting that responsibility. Assessment efforts may start in one unit, but the aim over time is to involve a variety of stakeholders from across the educational community. Faculty play an especially important role as do student-affairs educators, librarians, administrators, and students. Individuals from beyond the campus (alumni/ae, trustees, employers) whose experience can enrich the sense of appropriate aims and standards for learning may also play a part in assessment. In other words, assessment and improvement are responsibilities shared by those members of the entire educational community who have a stake in student learning.

  6. Assessment makes a difference when it addresses top-priority issues to illuminate outcomes of highest importance to stakeholders. While assessment understands the innate value of information and improvement, its use is only exemplified when information is connected to the questions of top importance to those with stake in its improvement. Assessment must, therefore, produce evidence that is credible, informative, and applicable to decisions that need to be made in policy and/or practice. Rather than just analyzing data and returning “results,” those engaged in assessment should take into account how data and information will be used for continuous improvement.

  7. Assessment leads to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change. Assessment’s greatest contribution occurs when the quality of teaching and learning are visibly valued and improved. Realistically, assessment is an informative piece of the larger puzzle for improving educational performance, where the push for improvement is a visible and primary goal of leadership, and issues of quality are central to the institution’s planning, budgeting, and personnel decisions. Assessment can be most effective when undertaken in an environment that is receptive, supportive, and enabling.

  8. Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public. There is compelling public stake in education. As educators, we have a responsibility to the public and stakeholders that support or depend on us to provide information about the ways in which our students meet goals and expectations. This responsibility goes beyond simple reporting of data; stakeholders must be informed of critical needs, and how we are working to improve the quality of education, so that we can all actively engage in the process of assessment and continuous improvement. Those to whom educators are accountable have a corresponding obligation to support such attempts at improvement.

What is Learning Outcomes Assessment?

“Assessment is the systematic collection, review and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development” (Palomba and Banta, 1999).

This section covers three topics:

Categories of Assessment

Assessment of student learning occurs at three levels: institutional-level, program-level, and course level. The resources provided on this website primarily cover program-level assessment. For assistance with course-level assessment, see the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Getting Started with Assessment

When selecting a place to start, start small. Many already feel stretched thin in their day-to-day roles. Assessment can feel like an add-on to already full plates, particularly for those who are learning the skills as they go. Be sure to engage others in the process. The learning outcomes for a unit should represent the goals of the entire program.

  • Step 1: Identify a limited number of learning outcomes for your program
  • Step 2: Create a plan for which one or two of those learning outcomes you would like to explore and what data you will need
  • Step 3: Collect data. You may already have student work from projects or papers. If so, that’s a good place to start. If you don’t already have student work products, you may want to consider different types of indirect and direct evidence that you can collect.
  • Step 4: Analyze the data to see how the students are meeting the outcomes
  • Step 5: Use the evidence you collected to confirm the quality of the program or to make changes for improvement
            • Learning Goals

              Learning goals describe broadly the most important things you want students in your program to learn upon completion (e.g. acquisition of specialized knowledge, problem-solving skills, communication skills). Learning goals could encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes. Having a clearly-defined set of program-level learning goals is the starting point for having an effective assessment plan.Below are some guidelines for writing effective learning goals.

              If your program has existing learning goals, it is a good idea to review those with reference to these guidelines:

              • A program-level learning goal should be measurable with reasonable effort. In other words, it should be feasible to collect accurate and reliable data to assess the attainment of a learning goal with a reasonable amount of time and resources.
              • An effective learning goal should be written in clear terms with action words
              • An effective learning goal should neither be too broad nor too specific

              Learning objectives are more detailed than learning goals and describe how students can demonstrate achievement of learning goals. As with learning goals, the learning objectives could be encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes.

              A learning objective is comprised of three parts:

              • Behavior: describes what students will be able to do
              • Condition: describes the conditions under which the student will be able to demonstrate the behavior
              • Criteria: describes the criteria for evaluating student behavior

              Guidelines for writing effective learning objectives:

              • Learning objectives should reflect a clear understanding of the goals of the program
              • A learning objective should be directly observable
              • A learning objective should be specific
              • An effective learning objective should be written in clear terms with action words
            • Assessment Plans

              The Council for Learning Outcomes Assessment (C-LOA) has provided a template to be used to outline the assessment plans for the programs, which you can download here. Assessment plans should include the learning goals and objectives, the learning experiences and strategies that students will engage in to meet the learning objectives, the assessment methods or strategies, the processes to analyze the assessment information, and the decisions that will be made at the end of the assessment.

              Curriculum maps are often used to help organize the assessment plans. Curriculum maps allow for the faculty to connect the learning goals with the required courses and activities for all students.

              Guidelines for writing effective assessment plans:

              • Assessment plans should be driven by the faculty’s interests in student learning
              • Assessment plans should be linked to the curriculum and result in usable information
              • Assessment plans should have realistic aims and timelines
              • Assessment plans should outline the learning objective, identify the assessment strategies, and share the time frame for the assessment work
            • Assessment Strategies

              Assessment of student learning can either be direct or indirect. Direct methods for assessment of student learning includes directly observable evidence (e.g. examination scores). Indirect methods of assessment of student learning are alternative indicators that are not directly observable.  Direct and indirect assessment methods complement each other when the results of one method is interpreted in context of findings from the other.

              Example of direct and indirect evidence of student learning at the course and program level are presented below.

              Direct Methods of Assessment of Student Learning Indirect Methods of Assessment of Student Learning
              ●      Course-embedded assessments

              ●      Examination scores

              ●      Projects

              ●      Portfolios

              ●      Ratings of student performance

              ●      Student ratings of learning progress

              ●      Student job placements

              ●      Student admission rates in graduate programs

              ●      Student participation rates in the research, conferences, and other relevant academic activities

              ●      Alumni surveys

              ●      Retention and graduation rates

              While a program is comprised of courses, accreditors expect programs to be evaluated independently. However, course-level assessments can also inform program-level assessment to some extent. Consider for example when student learning is assessed in a course, various assessments are aligned with the course-level learning objectives. These course-level learning objectives are linked to the program-level learning goals. A sample of student work can be assessed using a rubric, thereby yielding direct evidence of student learning at the course and program level. This exercise can be conducted for a sample of courses across areas within the program so as to cover diverse set of program-level learning goals. While this process could be time consuming, it yields direct evidence of student learning.

              Note that final grades do not fulfill assessment of student learning outcomes, instead they are an overall evaluation of student achievement. Grades cannot effectively inform the program about how well students are meeting the specific learning objectives.

              Guidelines for effective assessment strategies:

              • Assessment strategies should clearly connect to the student learning objectives
              • Assessment strategies should provide the data necessary to answer whether students are meeting the learning objective
              • Assessment strategies should be managed to not be overly burdensome for the faculty engaging in the assessment
              • Assessment strategies should include ways to analyze and interpret the data
            • Understanding and Using Assessment Evidence

              Assessment evidence is the information that was gathered from the assessment strategies that support to some degree whether students are meeting the learning objectives for the program. Before gathering evidence, programs should consider how the information will be used. Guidelines for effective use of assessment evidence:

              • Assessment evidence will best be used if it directly connects to what a program wants to know about its program
              • Assessment evidence should be linked with program objectives
              • Assessment evidence should be shared with the program faculty
              • Assessment evidence should be used to guide curricular modifications
              • Assessment evidence should NOT be used out of context; for example, to evaluate a faculty member
              • Assessment evidence may be shared in a variety of ways with students and alumni or for grant proposals and publications

    Tools for Assessment

    Many programs will create their own tools for assessment that directly connect to the program learning goals. Examples of possible tools as well as campus tools and national tools are listed below.

    Program Tools

    Capstone courses/projects: Many programs expect students to complete capstone courses/projects. These courses are a good way to assess whether students meet program learning goals.

    Exams/Standardized Tests/Pre and Post Tests: Some disciplines have standardized tests that may be used to assess students program level learn. Programs may also have designed comprehensive exams or tests that allow the program to see what students know.

    Student Papers: Students’ papers can be gathered at different points to examine students’ mastery of specific objectives and writing skills.

    Student Presentations/Performances: Students presentations can be observed to better understand the students oral presentation competency and mastery of certain skillsets.

    Team Projects: Students interactions as a team can be observed as a way to examine effective team leadership. Students can also assess each other on effectiveness on a team.

    Transcript analysis: Students transcripts can be analyzed to identify patterns in course taking and grades.

    Campus Tools

    Chancellor’s Senior Survey: All senior students are asked what activities they participate, what they learn during their time on campus, how comfortable they are on campus, and how satisfied they are with their experiences.

    First Destination Survey: All graduating students are asked about their next steps after graduation, such as employment, graduate school, volunteering.

    Illinois ePortfolios: Students, who want to create an ePortfolio, have the opportunity to use the Illinois ePortfolio system. Programs may use the ePortfolio for assessing student learning.

    Campus Profile: Items from the campus profile may be included as indirect evidence of student learning. For instance, information on student retention and graduation rates can be examined.

    National Tools

    AAC&U VALUE Rubrics: Rubrics created by teams of faculty and professionals on such areas as critical thinking, teamwork, and written communication.

    Assessment Templates

    The campus is undergoing a systematic approach to collecting assessment information for every degree program. Each program is asked to fill out the assessment template.

    Download the assessment plan template:

    Graduate/Professional Degree Template
    Undergraduate Template

    Examples of Completed Templates

    A few degree programs who started early have agreed to share their completed templates. As these become available, they will be shared here.

    Assessment Planning Workshops

    The campus provides various workshops for assisting units with learning outcomes assessment. Some topics include: Introduction to Assessment Planning, Writing Learning Outcomes, Mapping the Curriculum, Methods and Measures for Assessing Learning and Program Quality.

    See more information on workshops, including the dates and times.

    Campus-level Resources for Assessment

    University of Illinois Learning Outcomes: The campus learning outcomes outline the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of all students who graduate from the University of Illinois.

    Chancellor’s Senior Survey: All senior students are asked what activities they participate, what they learn during their time on campus, how comfortable they are on campus, and how satisfied they are with their experiences.

    First Destination Survey: All graduating students are asked about their next steps after graduation, such as employment, graduate school, volunteering.

    Illinois ePortfolios: Students who want to create an ePortfolio have the opportunity to use the Illinois ePortfolio system. Programs may use the ePortfolio for assessing student learning.

    Campus Profile: Items from the campus profile may be included as indirect evidence of student learning. For instance, information on student retention and graduation rates can be examined.

    External Resources for Assessment

    Websites

    National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA): This site has a comprehensive list of searchable by keywords resources. NILOA also publishes its own research and papers.

    Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U): Through the Liberal Education and America’s Promise initiative, AAC&U has gathered information on essential learning outcomes, principles of excellence, high-impact educational practices, authentic assessments, and students’ signature work.

    Higher Learning Commission (HLC): The University is accredited by the Higher Learning commission.

    Books/Literature

    Kuh, George D., Ikenberry, Stanley O., Jankowski, Natasha A., Cain, Timothy Reese, Ewell, Peter T., Hutchings, Pat, Kinzie, Jillian. (2015) Using evidence of student learning to improve higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Palomba, Catherine A., Banta Trudy W. Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education. (1999) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Suskie, Linda A., (forward by:Banta, Trudy W.). (2009) Assessing student learning a common sense guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Walvoord, Barbara E. Fassler. (2010) Assessment clear and simple: a practical guide for institutions, departments, and general education. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Assessment

    1Campus collection of learning outcomes assessment information

    Can we just use our 2007-2008 reports?
    In part, yes; but this information needs to be updated, revised, and placed in the new template.

    Where will I get the template?
    The template will be mailed to academic program executive officers, and it will also be on this assessment website.

    Does the plan need to include evidence from our assessments of learning outcomes?
    For the Undergraduate Programs, yes, departments should be collecting evidence to report this year.

    For the Graduate programs, no, the template is asking for the PLAN for assessment of learning outcomes including what evidence will be collected. But the actual evidence that has been collected does not need to be included.

    Do programs need to address Illinois Student Learning Outcomes?
    Programs may connect learning outcomes with the campus learning outcomes, but programs are not required to do so.

    What evidence is there that Student Learning Outcomes Assessment benefits student learning?
    Programs that have assessed student learning, used the evidence from the assessment, made changes, and reassessed have found that they have improved the learning gains of students. Examples will be shared during workshops.

    What types of programs need to participate at this time? Minors? Certificates?
    At this time, all undergraduate degree-granting programs submitted plans of assessment of learning outcomes in Spring 2017. During the 2017-2018 academic year, we will will collect assessment plans from graduate programs. Information about what will be required for graduate programs will be distributed in Fall 2017.

    If a department has more than one degree, do they submit two plans?
    If a department has 3 “concentrations” but only one degree, submit one plan that covers all three. A LO might be “concentration” specific, but that’s ok. If a department has more than one degree, then they do need to submit a plan for each degree.

    When are the reports due?
    Graduate and Professional assessment reports will be due in April 2018. Updates to the Undergraduate assessment reports submitted in Spring 2017 will also be due in April 2018.

    2. Council for Learning Outcomes Assessment (C-LOA)

    Will C-LOA look at my unit’s accreditation report?
    Yes, C-LOA assures that units are submitting reports and that they are complete.

    3. Resources for Assessment

    I don’t know how to do program level assessment. Where can I find assistance?
    This website has many resources. In addition, several workshops will take place in the Fall and Spring. Your C-LOA representative can also be helpful.

    What is an example of a Learning Outcome and how it would be assessed? How many Learning Outcomes do programs typically have?
    This website has examples. Typically a program would have between 5 and 7 learning outcomes. These can be assessed using direct assessment of student work (i.e. a final paper, a capstone class) and by using indirect assessment (i.e. surveys, focus group).

    4. Assessment should be meaningful and useful

    Can I use the assessment information I did for my discipline’s accreditation?
    Yes, when appropriate, the unit should pull assessment information from other work that it is doing, such as from specialized accreditation reports and committee reports.

    My curriculum committee just completed a review of student learning using evidence; do we have to do something new for this request?
    Absolutely not, please pull from assessment work already being done in the programs to fill in the template.

    What are the expectations?
    The program faculty should ask what they want to know about student learning in the degree program. For instance, faculty could ask whether graduating students can effectively present material; identify evidence to answer the question; analyze what it has found. Finally, it should use that information to confirm the program is impacting student learning or improve the curriculum.

    5. Quality assurance and accreditation

    Why?
    Our campus is committed to the educational achievement of our students, and we strive to offer educational programs of the highest quality. A regular and thoughtful practice of articulating and assessing student learning outcomes allows for our campus to ensure that our graduates are receiving the world-class education that we promise.

    Why is accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) important for our  campus? What are the consequences of not being accredited?
    HLC accreditation holds campuses to a high standard for assessing student learning outcomes, by expecting that the campus collects assessment information (plans and use) for every program at the University. The campus cannot receive any federal money without HLC accreditation.