The Assessment Cycle

At Penn State, learning outcomes assessment is an ongoing process and regular part of program activities. Below is a graphic depicting the general process with brief descriptions of each step. Later sections of this handbook provide more details about each step of the process. All assessment follows this basic process, with some variations based on program type (undergraduate, graduate, certificate). These variations will be noted.

1a. Establish/Revise Program Learning Objectives

Every academic program (undergraduate, graduate, certificate) has a list of program learning objectives. PLOs are statements that encapsulate the body of knowledge, skills, values, and habits of mind that an individual completing the program should have at the point of graduation. The assessment cycle begins when program faculty articulate discrete, clear, and measurable PLOs. Graduate programs are required to align their learning objectives with a set of Scholarly and Professional goals developed by the Graduate School.

1b. Curriculum Map

A curriculum map or matrix is a graphical illustration of the relationship between a program’s courses/experiences and the program learning objectives. It shows the chronological progression of the curriculum and which courses (or milestones, in the case of graduate programs) address each of the PLOs. Together, the PLOs and the curriculum/milestone map serve as the foundation for regular assessment activities. A prose description of the relationship between PLOs and courses is an acceptable alternative to a curriculum map.

2. Choose Learning Objective(s) to Assess

At Penn State, programs are expected to assess a single objective each year, though some prefer to assess more than one objective. An assessment plan begins with choosing which learning objective to explore. The choice of which PLO is often rooted in faculty concerns or questions based on observations of student performance. A common way to begin assessment is to assess mastery of an objective, typically in a capstone or 400-level course.

3. Choose and Design Assessment Measures

Assessment measures can be almost anything, including course assignments or student surveys. The alignment between the measure and the PLO is vital. If the objective is written well, it will not be difficult to determine the most effective way to measure it.

4. Collect Assessment Data and Evidence

Once you have chosen one or more assessment methods for the PLO you intend to measure, you will need to implement a process for gathering assessment evidence. This process often involves collaborating with other faculty in your program, or in programs at other locations. Your data collection process may look different from one year to the next, depending on the PLO you are assessing and the measure you have chosen.

5. Review Evidence and Determine Action

Once assessment data is collected and analyzed, it should be shared broadly with program faculty.  If performance targets were met, program faculty can have confidence that students are meeting expectations.  Specific modifications, such as including an additional assignment in a specific course to address a gap in student knowledge, are better than vague ideas such as ‘improving the way a specific topic is taught.’

6. Submit Report

Assessment reports are due annually on June 30th and submitted via the University’s online Assessment Management System (AMS) which all assessment leaders should be able to access. Every for-credit graduate, undergraduate, and certificate program is in the AMS. If you do not have access to the AMS or to the appropriate program(s), contact your Assessment Liaison. Guidance related to developing PLOs, establishing curriculum maps, and using rubrics, as well as other assessment resources, can be found on OPAIR’s Assessment Resources page. Training resources for the AMS can be found on the AMS Training page.

7. Implement Changes

If assessment results suggest changes should be made to the curriculum, the important next step is to implement those changes. Common changes include emphasizing certain content or skills in courses earlier in the curriculum, adjusting pedagogical approaches to make instruction of certain topics more explicit and intentional, revising a scoring guide (rubric), or revising an assessment measure.

8. Determine Impact of Changes

If changes are made as the result of assessment evidence, it is important to reexamine the PLO to determine the impact of the changes. In most cases, this means repeating the assessment in a subsequent semester, although sometimes this can be done immediately. In other instances, it may be necessary to wait several semesters or years for students impacted by the changes to progress through the curriculum to encounter the mastery-level course in which the original objective was assessed. If no changes have been made in the curriculum, these steps are skipped.

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