Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


Four tips on assessing institution-wide learning outcomes

Posted on September 26, 2014 at 12:10 AM

Over the summer, student learning expert Dee Fink asked me for some suggestions on how to assess student achievement of institution-wide learning outcomes. I told him this is hard to answer in generalities—a lot depends on things like the institution’s curricula, size, and complexity—but here are some tips.


1. How do students learn these things? In other words, where (in what courses) and how (through what learning activities) do students achieve each of these learning outcomes? My point is the one I made in my last blog post: if faculty are teaching an outcome, they are (or should be) grading students on it, so they should already have assessment evidence in hand. If so, you’re down to aggregating evidence and looking for overall trends.


2. One size does not fit all. Math application skills might be assessed through a multiple choice test, while appreciation of diverse perspectives might be assessed through a reflective essay. There’s no law that says everything has to be assessed the same way.


3. Keep it simple. Complicated assessment processes, such as submitting samples of student work that are scored by a committee, can collapse under their own weight. Rank-and-file faculty members come to view themselves as providers of assessment information, not consumers of it. For many U.S. institutions, no matter how many general education courses the institution offers, there are probably no more than 20 that most students take to complete their general education requirements. Just focus your assessments on those high-enrollment courses to start.


3. Focus on capstones: projects or experiences that students complete as they approach graduation. Done right, they should give you a lot of information on a number of key institutional learning outcomes—a good embodiment of “keep it simple.” I’m also a big fan of reflective writing, so I like to see capstones accompanied by reflective papers on what and how students have learned.


4. Approach portfolios slowly and carefully. While they're considered the gold standard of assessment, if not carefully planned they can be a huge amount of work; someone needs to sift through all that stuff and make sense of it. I recommend portfolios for low-enrollment programs and individually-designed majors.

Categories: How to assess