A Brief Guide

Nota bene: The terms goals, learning outcomes, and outcomes are all used interchangeably. They represent what you expect students to know and be able to do once they complete the program and/or course.

Annual Program Assessment

Program assessment findings take many forms. Some programs simply complete the assessment worksheets to report their results. Others view assessment as a research project, using descriptive statistics to analyze data, report conclusions, and make recommendations. Still others produce a narrative describing their assessment process, findings, and what they plan to do. The university uses TaskStream, an assessment management tool, as a repository to collect assessment information. TaskStream is also designed to allow the University to run reports and check on the status of assessment submissions.

For your convenience, we have designed assessment templates or worksheets that align closely to the fields in TaskStream. This should ease the work of your unit’s TaskStream user when entering the information into TaskStream. Use the templates for an initial summary of the assessment report. If you want to provide more detail, it can be added as a narrative after the template table.

The report should include the following information:

  • The learning outcome(s)/objective(s) you are assessing. Units should have at least 3-5 outcomes that are each assessed over a five-year period;
  • The evidence used to assess student learning, including a description of the assignment, project, etc and a copy of the rubric or method for evaluating the evidence;
  • Summary of the findings and what they tell you about student learning; and
  • Description of how the program plans to make improvements (changes in curriculum or in specific courses) based on the assessment findings.

Program assessments should answer two important questions:

  • What skills and knowledge taught in the program do you expect students to know and be able to do by the end of the program, and to retain several years after they graduate?
  • What evidence do you have (or need) that will convince you that students have achieved the learning goals?

It is important to remember that assessment is an iterative process, intended to provide useful feedback about what and how well students are learning. Here are suggested steps to consider as you complete your assessment report:

  1. Review your program goals to make sure they are still relevant. Program goals may be revised or deleted, and new goals may be added. Each degree program should have at least 3-5 learning outcomes. You can decide how to plan your assessment process; however, all learning outcomes should be assessed at least once in a five-year cycle.
  2. Review your assessment strategies to insure they are still relevant. Improving academic programs depends on gathering appropriate data about (or evidence of) student learning. Middle States requires that program-level assessment should include at least one direct measure of student learning. (A direct measure provides evidence that actual learning has occurred and is in the form of a product or performance.) Many programs use assignments in capstone courses as evidence of student learning. Any assignment used for assessment should be designed to measure the relevant learning outcome(s). To assist with the interpretation and use of assessment findings, define minimally acceptable performance targets for your students. One simple way to do this is to clearly articulate what constitutes an unacceptable, acceptable, and exemplary performance for each assessment measure (i.e., a rubric). Please note that using final grades or a grade on a test without using a rubric delineating what the grade represents usually does not provide specific information about students’ weaknesses and strengths. The Association of American Colleges and Universities has developed a set of rubrics that address many of the outcomes typical in a college education (i.e., critical or creative thinking, integrative learning, oral and written communication, problem solving and quantitative literacy). Copies of these rubrics can be found here. An extensive list of assessment measures is supplied in the supplementary materials accompanying these instructions.
  3. Devote a faculty meeting to discussing the assessment results so that they make sense. What does the data suggest? In what areas do students often have difficulty in the program?
  4. How will the department use assessment findings to improve the program? What changes in the curriculum will result?

As part of the annual assessment review, we will endeavor to provide meaningful feedback on your assessment submission using a Continuous Improvement Rubric. The rubric provides a clear indication of the type and level of information required by GW.

For questions about assessment, contact Cheryl Beil, at cbeil@gwu.edu, or, for Columbian College faculty, contact Evie Downie, at caas@gwu.edu.

For information about or training on how to use TaskStream, contact Alex Feldman, at alexmf@gwu.edu.