The purpose of program-level outcomes assessment is to assess overall student learning within a program, as opposed to evaluating a particular instructor or course. Rather than focusing on individual students, program assessment provides information about students as a group and illuminates how individual student learning in individual courses becomes integrated and builds as the student moves through a program of study.
Assessing student learning at the program level often means simply shifting the lens through which faculty look at their own teaching. Instead of focusing on what particular faculty members are teaching, what courses students are taking, or what readings or assignments students are expected to complete, the focus shifts to what students are learning—that is, the “outcomes” of the faculty members’ teaching and the students’ work.
Degree-granting programs at The New School assess student learning goals and provide a summary of these assessments to the Provost’s Office on an annual basis using Assessment Report Template A (PDF) or Assessment Report Template B (PDF). In the academic year 2012-2013, all programs will create an assessment plan for the next several years using the Comprehensive Multi-year Assessment Plan Template (PDF), as outlined in the memo on Program-Level Student Learning Assessment 2012-2013 (PDF).
The Steps of Program Assessment
Assessment, whether at the course, program, division, or university-wide level, can be viewed as a four-step cycle:*
*As described by Linda Suskie, vice president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) in “Getting Started with Student Learning Assessment,” MSCHE Workshop, September 15, 2010
The first step is for a program to clearly state its learning goals for its graduates. These learning outcomes, until assessed and proven, are properly described as “intended” or “expected” outcomes: What would you want all your graduates to know (cognitive objectives), to value (affective objectives), and to do (behavioral objectives) when they have completed your program of study? You probably intend for students to acquire specific knowledge and skills, but you may also aim to cultivate certain attitudes in students, such as valuing civic engagement or being able to understand different points of view.
Once program goals have been articulated, faculty members in a program can consider the learning opportunities that their students are being offered to achieve the goals. Are all the learning goals adequately addressed in the existing curriculum? Are some omitted or underrepresented? The relationship between learning goals and curriculum can be systematically examined through an exercise called curriculum mapping (PDF).
The next step is to figure out how to tell whether students in a program are achieving the learning goals that the program’s faculty have articulated. Faculty members should choose assessment methods that help them answer questions they have about student learning.
The last step of the cycle is to use the assessment evidence to improve the program. Faculty members are always making decisions about teaching and learning, often on the basis of informal observations and discussions. Learning assessment provides more objective and systematic evidence for faculty members to use to inform and shape their decisions. This is one goal of assessment—providing information for informed decision making.