About Program Assessment

Assessment is the process of collecting and analyzing information to determine if progress is being made toward a desired end. While this broad definition is applicable to a range of goals and contexts, the Office of Assessment for Curricular Effectiveness (ACE) supports the assessment of student learning outcomes (SLOs) in the context of undergraduate academic programs at WSU.

Program-level student learning outcomes assessment, specifically, is a process of faculty identifying what students should be able to do and know by the end of an academic program, measuring student progress toward meeting those learning outcomes, and using that information to inform decision-making about teaching, learning, and curricula.

Program Assessment Cycle

In this context, program-level assessment (see graphic) begins with program-level SLOs and questions about student learning in the curriculum. After reviewing the program’s curriculum map indicating where particular SLOs are highlighted in the curriculum, faculty identify direct and indirect measures to gather evidence related to student learning for their majors. The evidence is analyzed, discussed by the faculty, and used to inform program decisions/actions to support student learning, including those about instruction, assignments, the curriculum, and dialog about teaching and learning. The cycle can then be repeated to help programs continuously evolve a curriculum that promotes optimal student learning.

Steps in the program assessment cycle. Text description follows.

  1. Repeated steps in the program assessment cycle
    1. Program SLOs & questions about student learning
    2. Learning opportunities & curriculum map
    3. Plan assessment measures
    4. Gather student learning evidence
    5. Interpret evidence
    6. Use evidence to support student learning

Value of Program Assessment

Program-level learning outcomes assessment looks beyond an individual course to examine what students are learning through the curriculum and their overall experience in the program or major/option. In the same way that instructors individually engage in a cycle of teaching and learning in their own courses, program faculty members as a group can engage in this process collectively to reflect on and review their curriculum as a whole. In this context, program-level learning outcomes assessment can:

  • Help faculty recognize program strengths, identify priorities for improvement, and refine instruction and curriculum in order to deliver relevant and powerful learning experiences to all students
  • Offer a meaningful and systematic collaborative process for shared decision-making and actions, with involvement from, and intentional consideration by, program faculty and leadership
  • Make clear what students should expect from their educational experience and help faculty plan a coherent undergraduate program or major/option
  • Help programs examine key areas including curriculum design, instructional effectiveness, and the student experience
  • Support university accreditation, and specialized professional accreditation where applicable

Program Assessment vs. Research

While similar, program-level assessment and research have different purposes, contexts, and limitations.

  • Like research, program-level assessment involves asking specific questions, using good practices, collecting and analyzing evidence, and using results to evaluate claims or hypotheses. Like research, assessment may use quantitative or qualitative methods, and often benefits from mixed methods.
  • Unlike research, program-level assessment lacks control of many outside variables that affect students and instruction, doesn’t include a control group, and isn’t intended to develop theories, test concepts, or produce generalizable knowledge. Many factors limit assessment, including limitations on time, resources, design, and implementation.
  • Rather, program-level assessment uses available time and resources to produce reasonably accurate information about student learning in the context of a particular program or institution, which can guide local practice or decisions. For example, decisions about curriculum, teaching techniques, assignments, syllabi, materials, facilities, technology, scheduling, and prerequisites are made regularly by faculty and departments and should be informed by assessment.