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University Assessment Resources: Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) Assessment

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) Assessment

What is Student Learning Outcomes Assessment? 
Student learning outcomes describe the knowledge, skills, and values that students should attain in an academic program.  Assessment of student learning outcomes involves the systematic gathering of information for the purpose of determining what students are actually attaining, and the use of that information to improve student learning.

Benefits of Student Learning Outcomes Assessment
Students are the primary beneficiaries of learning outcomes assessment.  However, assessing learning outcomes can also help faculty seeking to add to or improve curricular offerings.  Assessment data can also help academic programs more clearly demonstrate to institutional and external audiences the strengths of the program and the success of the students.

Responsibility for Student Learning Outcomes Assessment

  • Faculty members are the primary decision-makers in the assessment process and are responsible for:
    • Defining clear learning outcomes for students in the program;
    • Identifying and implementing measures that assess whether their students attain those outcomes;
    • Analyzing the data gathered through the assessment measures for information relevant to the program; and
    • Using that resulting information as the basis for improvements in the program. 

  • The director of institutional assessment and the university assessment committee (UAC) establish guidelines for the assessment of student learning outcomes to ensure that our university's assessment practices meet the standards of our accrediting body.  In addition, the UAC reviews student learning outcomes assessment plans/reports and provides constructive feedback to faculty to improve program assessments.

Guidelines for Student Learning Outcomes Assessment

Basic requirements for annual assessment of student learning:

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Each program should define one set of student learning outcomes (SLOs).  This set of SLOs does not change from one year to the next, unless the program faculty decide to revise the SLOs.  (Note: the SLOs listed on the program's course alignment matrix must match the SLOs that are included on the annual assessment plans.  If a program's SLOs are revised, the course alignment matrix should be revised also.)
  • The complete list of SLOs for a program should describe the key skills, knowledge, and values students are expected to obtain in the program.
  • Every SLO does not need to be assessed every year, but all of a program’s learning outcomes must be assessed over a 3-year period.  Student learning must be assessed every academic year.

 Multiple Measures

  • Each year that you measure a student learning outcome, you should conduct multiple formative assessments and multiple summative assessments of the learning outcome.
  • At least one formative assessment and at least one summative assessment must be a direct measure of student learning (i.e., must directly measure students' knowledge and skills).
  • Measures must be aligned with the learning outcomes.  Each test/instrument should measure the knowledge and skills that comprise the learning outcome, but each test/instrument does not need to measure all aspects of a learning outcome.  Only the parts of a test/assignment that are related to an outcome should be used to measure the outcome.
  • Choose measures that will provide results that will help you identify strengths and weaknesses in student learning.

Formative and Summative Assessments (Click here for more information about formative and summative assessments)

  • Formative assessments should be conducted at points in the curriculum where students develop knowledge and skills related to the learning outcomes—that is, courses marked as Developmental on the course alignment matrix.  (For undergraduate programs, these will usually be 200- and 300-level courses.)
  • Summative assessments should be conducted at points in the curriculum where students are expected to show mastery (M) of the learning outcomes.  (For undergraduate programs, these will usually be 400- or 500-level courses, though students might master some aspects of outcomes in 300-level courses.) 

Criteria for Success (aka Achievement Targets)

  • Set clear criteria for success for each assessment.  The criteria that indicate overall program success should be stated, not the criteria that indicate individual student success.  (E.g., 80% of students will earn a rating of 3 or better on the evaluation rubric.  vs.  A rating of 3 on the rubric is considered satisfactory.)

Reporting Results

  • Report and explain results of student learning outcomes assessments conducted during the academic year.  
  • Results should align with the criteria for success.  That is, results should be reported in a format that is comparable to the criteria for success.  
  • Identify and explain specific strengths and/or weaknesses revealed by the results.

Using Results for Program Improvement

  • Describe specific changes that have been made or specific changes that will be implemented during the year (include target dates) in order to improve the program and/or to improve assessment practices.
  • Programs are expected to make improvements, even if achievement targets are met.
  • Examples of program changes to improve student learning and/or the faculty's ability to effectively assess student learning include, among other things:
    • adjusting course content or structure (not restricted to the courses in which assessments were conducted)
    • providing new resources to students
    • changing the curriculum
    • revising outcomes, assessment instruments, or achievement targets
    • applying a strategy that worked in one area/course to another area/course
    • looking at aspects of the outcome in future academic years that you haven’t yet examined.

Program Level SLOs

Program-Level Outcomes

Faculty should agree upon and create a list of program-level learning outcomes that articulate the knowledge, skills, and values that should be demonstrated by all students completing the program.  Typically, program-level learning outcomes do not describe specific tasks students will complete, but the key knowledge and skills demonstrated by the tasks. 

Faculty should consider how the progression of required and elective courses, and the course objectives, will lead students to achieve the program-level outcomes. A course alignment matrix is a useful tool for mapping the courses in which students are introduced to, develop, and master the knowledge/skills/values described in each learning outcome.

A program may choose outcomes that can be assessed at different points in time; some outcomes may not lend themselves to annual assessment.

Examples of program-level outcomes:

  • Students will analyze and solve tractable real world problems with statistical or mathematical techniques, as appropriate.
  • Students demonstrate sound logic and reason in the application of economic theories to economic problems.

Forms and Documents