What is Assessment

What is Assessment

Assessment is the systematic collection, review, and use of qualitative and quantitative data to improve student learning and development. Simply speaking, assessment answers 3 questions: 1) what are our expectations for student learning? 2) how well do our students’ performance match the expectations? 3) what we can do to improve students’ learning so that they meet the expectations? Assessment is an integral component of learning and teaching.

What is NOT Assessment

Assessment is NOT... Because...
Faculty Performance Evaluation

Assessment is focused on student learning, not individual faculty performance. Assessment data are used to monitor how well the curriculum or program is supporting student learning, to identify successful practices or areas of improvement, and to guide evidence-based decision making. Given the focus of assessment on the curriculum or program, assessment data are aggregated across faculty and courses as indicators of the quality of the program.

Program Performance Review

Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at improving student learning. It is formative and reflective in nature. It is focused on the learning process at the moment, i.e. how our students are learning. Components of the assessment cycle can be adjusted based on the assessment and improvement results. In contrast, program performance review is a summative, comprehensive evaluation of the program quality. It is focused on what has been accomplished, which include areas other than student learning. It typically follows a set of predetermined criteria, and cannot be easily adjusted.


Assessment is interested in how a group of students (e.g. in a program) is progressing toward the learning outcomes, not how each student is performing in a course. Course grades tend to be more subjective, and reflect components other than student learning (e.g. participation). However, course-embedded assessment assignments can be used to assess student learning at the program level, if they are aligned with the program SLOs, are evaluated using consistent and validated criteria, and are coordinated with assessment measures associated with other courses or program components.

Student Survey

Student learning is at the heart of assessment. Student surveys typically reflect students’ perceptions of the learning process and experience, and thus do not provide direct information on how much knowledge, skills and/or abilities students have developed as a result of the process. However, indirect measures such as student surveys do provide important information about the curriculum and/or program, and they should be used in triangulation with direct measures that are focused on students’ actual learning.

Empirical Research

Assessment follows the same systematic process of collecting, analyzing and corroborating data from multiple sources that is fundamental in empirical research. However, the primary concern of assessment is not to produce generalizable results or contribute to theory development. The goal of assessment is to monitor and improve learning and teaching practice. Unlike most empirical research, the assessment data are communicated quickly back to the “participants” of the assessment process, and are used to make timely changes to curricular and co-curricular programs.

Someone else’s job

Same as teaching, the goal of assessment is to improve student learning. As such, assessment should be an integral component of teaching and learning practices. Assessment is a collaborative effort that involves faculty (the experts in determining student learning outcomes and judging their learning progress), staff (the critical support that facilitates the assessment process), administration (the institutional support and oversight), and students (the active participants that help shape what and how they should learn). Assessment cannot be done in isolation by a few individuals.