Santa Clara University


Choose an Assessment Method

Usually the program will follow a multi-year plan in assessing the student learning outcomes based on a determination of which SLOs are best assessed early in the cycle and which later.

Once a particular SLO is identified, the program will determine which assessment method to use, considering which techniques, tools and instruments for collecting information will best determine the extent to which students demonstrate desired learning outcomes.

"Direct measures" of student learning make use of actual student work or behavior, usually derived as part of the regular educational experience of students in courses. Direct measures are most effective if they utilize work embedded in a course, assignments or exams that is part of the course and counts towards the grade. Not only do students take this type of assessment more seriously, but it helps ensure that our assessments benefit student learning (i.e., that assessment is for learning, rather than simply of learning).

"Indirect measures" are also useful in assessment, especially when used to complement or extend direct assessments of learning. They can help explain results obtained from a direct assessment, as well as give insights on how students perceive aspects of our programs.At times, indirect measures may be entirely sufficient for measuring some program outcomes. Indirect measures include surveys, focus groups, and other activities that gather impressions or opinions about the program and/or its learning outcomes.

Types of direct measures

  1. Course-embedded assessment (assignments, exams, projects that are part of a course)
  2. Tests and examinations (locally/faculty designed and/or commercially produced standardized tests). These may be given during the senior year as a summative assessment.
  3. Capstone course assessment
  4. Portfolio Evaluation (through paper or ePortfolio, this can include multiple pieces of student work and can be used to measure growth over time)
  5. Evaluation of performance (live or on videotape or audiotape)

Direct measures: Making them effective

  1. Assignments/exams/student work products should be able to provide evidence directly related to the knowledge or skills represented by the Learning Outcome.
  2. Evidence should reflect cumulative learning (i.e., should not be from work completed early in the quarter).
  3. Faculty should be confident that the assignment/exam/activity gave students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning fully. The format of the assignment may limit students' ability to demonstrate their learning if asks for a brief response (e.g., a short answer question on an exam). Learning outcomes that reflect more complex cognitive outcomes (application/analysis/synthesis) will be best assessed through assignments that allow students to fully demonstrate their learning of these processes, such as papers or projects.
  4. If the program is interested in assessing student attainment over time, it is important to include a preliminary assessment and a follow-up assessment that are comparable.
  5. Consider whether the same piece of evidence (e.g., research paper) can be used to assess more than one SLO.Capstones are particularly conducive to this.
  6. Will the type of evidence gathered help the program understand what it can do to improve?

Types of indirect measures

  1. Student Surveying or Exit Interviewing
  2. Alumni Surveying
  3. Employer Surveying
  4. External Reviewers
  5. Curriculum and Syllabus Analysis

Indirect measures: Making them effective

  1. Consider whether you have existing measures that can be used as indirect measures of a SLO. This might include exit or senior surveys, alumni surveys, end-of-quarter evaluations that include items about perceptions of student learning of specific SLOs, or possibly, surveys given at the university level such as NSSE (the National Survey of Student Engagement). Given your SLO, can you base your assessment entirely on these indirect measures or can they be used to supplement a direct assessment of student learning?
  2. If you need to develop new measures, consider the merits of surveys (online or paper), focus groups, or interviews. Which approach will provide the most meaningful and manageable results?
  3. Can the same indirect measure provide information on more than one SLO?
  4. In addition to indirect measures for students, can this approach be used productively with faculty? Are there other materials (e.g., syllabi) that can provide indirect support for questions the program wishes to answer? For example, if the program is assessing students' written and/or oral communication, will an analysis of syllabi help inform the assessment by showing what faculty are asking students to do?
  5. Will the type of evidence gathered help the program understand what it can do to improve?

Adapted from University of Wisconsin Assessment Manual

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