There are several internal and external resources available to help programs learn about assessment:
Assessment Planning Workshops
The University offers various ways to engage and to learn more about assessment. Find out more about future and past workshops..
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.In some cases, the language is used verbatim, but has been modified to reflect the priorities of the University of Illinois. Access the ‘Principles of Good Practice..
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Learning Outcomes Assessment 101
“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 indicates the various levels of assessment activities.
- Getting Started with Assessment walks you through the typical assessment cycle, by providing you with some tips to get started or to reinvigorate your program-level assessment process.
- Tools for Assessment gives you even more information about what you should know to do assessment.
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
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
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 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
- Course-embedded assessments
- Examination scores
- Ratings of student performance
Indirect Methods of Assessment of Student Learning
- 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
U of I 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.
Assessment Planning Workshops: The University offers various ways to engage and to learn more about assessment.
Chancellor’s Senior Survey: The Chancellor’s Senior Survey (CSS) is administered to all graduating undergraduate students. Students respond to a series of questions related to student participation in university-sponsored and other campus-related activities; self-assessment of skills, competencies, and abilities related to the Illinois student learning outcomes; perceptions of campus climate; disability support services; overall satisfaction with the academic experiences at Illinois, and several open-ended questions.
Chancellor’s Senior Survey Dashboard: provides an interactive way for faculty and staff to review the survey results, allowing for the units to look at results by college, department, international student status, gender, and race/ethnicity. You cannot view categories when fewer than 10 responses are available. Many programs use the CSS data to assess student learning.
First Destination Survey (Illini Success): 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.
Learning Outcomes Assessment Community Listserv (LOAC-LIST): The LOAC-LIST is brought to you by the Learning Outcomes Assessment Community (LOAC), a community of assessment practitioners here at Illinois. The LOAC-LIST is managed by the Provost’s Office and was established to provide a platform for assessment practitioners at Illinois to ask questions, discuss best practices, and share information related to learning outcomes assessment. Subscribe to the LOAC-LIST. For more information, please contact Linell Edwards or Staci Provezis.
Assessment Insight Chats: These 30-minute sessions are an opportunity for program-level assessment liaisons to pose questions or concerns about the learning outcomes assessment process. Make an appointment to discuss the learning outcomes assessment process..
Learning Outcome Assessment Plans
The campus is undergoing a systematic approach to collecting learning outcomes assessment information for every degree program. Each program is asked to complete a learning outcomes assessment plan.
Download the assessment plan template:
Examples of Completed Assessment Plans
Learning Outcomes Assessment Updates
Each program is required to submit an annual Assessment Update based on the assessment questions specified in their Assessment Plan. The Assessment Update can be thought of as a brief progress report about the assessment activities that take place within a particular academic year. Programs can submit a revised Assessment Plan with the Assessment Update if changes were made to the original assessment plan.
Examples of Completed Assessment Updates
External Resources for Assessment
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.
AAC&U VALUE Rubrics: Rubrics created by teams of faculty and professionals on such areas as critical thinking, teamwork, and written communication.Higher Learning Commission (HLC): The University is accredited by the Higher Learning commission.
Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education (AALHE): AALHE’s mission is to develop and support a community of educators and inform assessment practices in higher education to foster and improve student learning and institutional quality.
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. Borrow a copy of this book from the UIUC library.
Palomba, Catherine A., Banta Trudy W. Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education, 2nd edition. (2015) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Borrow a copy of this book from the UIUC library.
Suskie, Linda A. (2018) Assessing student learning a common sense guide, 3rd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Borrow an online version of this book from the UIUC library.
Walvoord, Barbara E. Fassler. (2010) Assessment clear and simple: a practical guide for institutions, departments, and general education. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass. Borrow a copy of this book from the UIUC library.
Frequently Asked Questions about Assessment
Understanding the Learning Outcomes Assessment Process
Learning Outcomes Assessment Plans were submitted for each undergraduate degree program in 2017 and for all graduate degree programs in 2018 with the expectation that assessment work will take place each year and be reported via Annual Assessment Updates. The initial requests for Assessment Updates are sent in the Spring and are due the following Fall by October 1. If October 1 falls on a weekend, then Assessment Updates are due the following Monday. Although the deadline is October 1, the Assessment Updates are designed to capture assessment activities for the previous academic year. As such, we encourage units to submit Assessment Updates sooner than later to ensure faculty and staff involved in assessment activities have an opportunity to provide feedback before the new academic year.
The following are frequently asked questions (FAQ) regarding the Learning Outcomes Assessment process at Illinois.
Quality assurance and accreditation:
- Why do I need to assess student learning outcomes? Learning outcomes assessment is an expectation for institutional accreditation (Higher Learning Commission), the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), and most importantly, for improving the student learning experience at Illinois. 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 progress reports) for every program at the University. The campus cannot receive any federal money without HLC accreditation.
- 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.
Campus collection of learning outcomes assessment information:
- Where can I find the learning outcomes assessment reports for my unit? All learning outcomes assessment related material for your unit (e.g., assessment plans, previous assessment updates, and feedback from the Council for Learning Outcomes Assessment (C-LOA), are located in box and should be identifiable by the [Unit/Department Name]. For example, “Animal Sciences – Learning Outcomes Assessment Reports”.
- How do I access the Learning Outcomes Assessment Reports folder for my unit? All current Department Heads/Chairs, Unit Leaders, College-Level Assessment Liaisons, and Program-level Liaisons should have access to the folder. If you are a new Department Head/Chair, Unit Leader, or Assessment Liaison, please contact Linell Edwards to request access to the folder.
- Can I make changes to the Assessment Plan? The Assessment Plan for each degree program is a “plan” and can be revised based on the needs of program. We encourage units to revisit the Assessment Plan each year to track progress and communicate next steps.
- How do I submit an Assessment Plan for a new program in my unit? If you would like submit an assessment plan for a new program please contact Linell Edwards to request a personalized link to the Learning Outcomes Assessment Plan Template. You can access the instructions for the Assessment Plan Template, but please use the personalized link to submit the Assessment Plan.
- How do I submit the annual Assessment Update? Personalized links to the Assessment Update for each degree program are sent to the Department Head/Chair, Unit Leader, and Program-Level Assessment Liaisons on record. The initial request is sent in the spring and a reminder is sent early fall. If you need a copy of the message that contains the personalized links for your unit, please contact Linell Edwards.
- What questions are on the Assessment Update Form? The Assessment Update Form is revised each year based on feedback from units and the Council for Learning Outcomes Assessment (C-LOA). You can access the questions on the Assessment Update Form for AY 2021-2022, but please use the personalized link for each degree program to submit the Assessment Update.
- What happens when there are changes in leadership or personnel? We encourage outgoing Department Heads/Chairs, Unit Leaders and Assessment Liaisons to communicate the status of the learning outcomes assessment process to any incoming Department Head/Chair, Unit Leader or Assessment Liaisons . If there is a change in Department Head/Chair, Unit Leader or Assessment Liaisons, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading: Update Contact Information. Please include the program name, previous contact information and new contact information. New program-level assessment liaisons can also review the “guide for Program-Level Assessment Liaisons.
Council for Learning Outcomes Assessment (C-LOA):
- What is C-LOA? The Provost’s Council for Learning Outcomes Assessment (C-LOA) was created in spring 2016 to promote and guide assessment activities on our campus. The Council consists of faculty from each school/college, an undergraduate student, a graduate student, and representatives from Student Affairs, the Faculty Senate, the General Education Board (GEB), the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL), and the Provost’s Office. The role of the Council is to foster a practice of assessment that is ongoing and meaningful to campus units.
- Will C-LOA review my unit’s Assessment Update? Yes. C-LOA assures that units are submitting Assessment Updates and that they are complete. The Assessment Update for your program will be reviewed by at least two C-LOA members.
- Do I have to incorporate the feedback from C-LOA into our assessment process? The Council recognizes that faculty and staff within the program are best equipped to know what is appropriate for the program. Thus, feedback from the reviewers may be incorporated at the discretion of the program.
- Should I highlight the changes we made based on the feedback from C-LOA? It is not necessary to highlight changes, but you can discuss those changes in subsequent Assessment Updates.
Resources for assessment:
- How much time should I allocate for learning outcomes assessment activities? The Time Allocation Worksheet provides a range of estimates for common learning outcomes assessment activities, but the size of your unit and available resources are also factors to consider.
- I don’t know how to do program level assessment. Where can I find assistance? This website has many resources. In addition, several workshops are offered each year. You can also reach out to your C-LOA representative or College-Level Assessment Liaison, post questions to the LOAC-list, attend an Assessment Brown Bag meeting, review the latest learning outcomes assessment newsletter, schedule an Assessment Insight Chat, or contact Linell Edwards or Staci Provezis for additional resources.
Assessment should be meaningful and useful:
- Do I have to assess all student learning outcomes (SLOs) each year? No. You are not expected to assess all SLOs each year. In some cases, an assessment planning question is connected to multiple SLOs.
- Do I have to explore multiple assessment planning questions each year? No. Each Assessment Plan contains 3-5 assessment planning questions that can be spread out over a 5-8 year period.
- What are preparatory assessment activities? In some cases, programs might not be in the position to assess student learning, but instead focus their efforts on developing rubrics, surveys, exams, and other artifacts that can be used to assess student learning.
- Can I use assessment information from other work going on in the unit? Yes. When appropriate, the unit should pull assessment information from other work that it is doing, such as from specialized accreditation reports, committee reports, IBHE reports, and program review reports.
- How do I decide what questions to explore? The program faculty should ask what they want to know about student learning in the degree program. For instance, faculty interested in students’ ability to effectively communicate knowledge of the field might identify evidence to answer the question, then analyze that evidence to reach a conclusion. Finally, it should use that information to confirm the program is impacting student learning or improve the curriculum.