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Learning Assessment Home

Mission: to stimulate a culture of ongoing instructional improvement using assessment to facilitate student success.

Assessment Philosophy: Assessment practices at Laney College ensure quality educational opportunities that respond to the needs of the local and global community. Assessment is an ongoing process that improves student learning and institutional effectiveness through dialogue based on evidence. We value honesty, integrity, curiosity, and the courage to ask deep and interesting questions about student learning, our teaching practices, and our effectiveness as a learner-centered college.

Assessment and Reporting Wheel final

What Is Assessment?

Assessment is the process of collecting evidence to see if students are actually learning what were teaching. The focus is on seeing what the student is able to do or demonstrate, rather than just listing an inventory of what was covered in a particular class. Here is a useful definition from Linda Suskie in her book Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide (p. 3).

Assessment is the ongoing process of:

  • Establishing clear, measurable expected outcomes of student learning.
  • Ensuring that students have sufficient opportunities to achieve those outcomes.
  • Systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well student learning matches our expectations.
  • Using the resulting information to understand and improve student learning.

As you may know, the accrediting commission (ACCJC) has changed its standards, and colleges will need to meet a new set of criteria to keep their accreditation. The new standards heavily emphasize outcomes and assessment at the course level, program level, and institution level. This represents a dramatic shift in focus, and it means that if we as a college can demonstrate that were practicing assessment, we could lose our accreditation.

On the next accreditation self-study report and visit, we will need to show what assessment we have been doing. If we haven’t done anything, we will be in trouble! Assessment is supposed to be faculty-driven. So if we as faculty are supposed to decide how to do it, it would be a good idea for us to figure out what it is and the many things that can be done to assess student learning. The good news is that there are lots of possibilities, and nobody HAS to do it in any particular way. You can choose assessment methods that will work for you and that will give you information you can really use to improve student learning.

Assessment isn’t the same as assigning grades. Grades alone do not give enough information on specific strengths and weaknesses of students. In addition, grading standards might be vague, while assessment information is very specific.


Benefits of Assessment:

The instructor is more proactive in helping students learn. Expectations are made very clear, so that students know what to expect and know where to focus their energies. There should be frequent prompt feedback that gives enough detail so that students understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Faculty should be curious to learn how their teaching impacts student learning and, as rational decision-makers, they should want to reflect on evidence, rather than rely on conjecture, to guide decision-making.?(Mary Allen, Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education, p. 13.)


Advice on starting assessment:

  • Keep it simple and sustainable. Start small.
  • You don’t have to assess every outcome every year.
  • Accrediting commissions aren’t necessarily interested in the content of our assessment results. They want to know that we have processes in place that insure that assessment and improvement is occurring on our campus.

Steps of Assessment: (Mary Allen, Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education, p. 10.)

1. Develop learning outcomes.

2. Check for alignment between the curriculum and the outcomes.

3. Develop an assessment plan.

4. Collect assessment data.

5. Use results to improve the program.

6. Routinely examine the assessment process and correct, as needed.

Assessments should be useful, accurate, truthful, fair, ethical, systematized, and cost effective.


Direct Methods of Assessment:

  • Published tests
  • Locally developed tests
  • Embedded assignments and course activities
  • Competence interviews
  • Portfolios of student work
  • Collective portfolios

Indirect Methods of Assessment:

  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Reflective Essays

What are Student Learning Outcomes?

Student learning outcomes are statements of what students will be able to do after taking a particular class or completing a particular program. Student learning outcomes can be written for individual classes, entire programs, or for the institution as a whole. Student learning outcomes should be general in scope. They should be written using active verbs that describe what the student will be able to DO and they should also indicate how the outcome will be measured or assessed.


How Do Outcomes Differ From Objectives?

An outcome (student learning outcome) indicates general overarching concepts in a course or program. Typically, there will be between three and eight outcomes for any particular course or program. Objectives address the details in a course and are related to the specific course content. There will be many individual objectives for any class.

Here is an example taken from a handbook from a workshop given at Laney College in August 2004 (by Janet Fulks and Kate Pluta of Bakersfield College):


Course Objectives:

Discuss differences in nutritional requirements associated with sex, age, and activity.

Describe causes and consequences of nutritional problems.

Identify key factors involved in correcting nutritional behaviors.


Course Student Learning Outcome:

At the end of this nutrition course, a student will be able to analyze a documented nutritional problem, determine a strategy to correct the problem, and write a draft nutritional policy addressing the broader scope of the problem.


What is a rubric?

A rubric lists the specific parts of the assignment ?the types of things the instructor is looking for and evaluating to determine the overall grade. The rubric specifically lists acceptable and unacceptable qualities in the assignment. Rubrics can have many levels (exemplary, good, competent, below standards, unacceptable, etc.) and can be written to accommodate any assignment and any qualities you are looking for.

To make things perfectly clear to your students, rubrics should be handed out to your students when you explain the assignment, so that they can focus their energies on things that you have decided are most important for this assignment.


Advantages of using rubrics:

  • Expectations are clear to students, so it helps them focus.
  • Rubrics make grading faster. (There’s no need to write the same thing many times ?just circle the appropriate statements on the rubric.)
  • Since grading is easier, assignments should be returned more quickly, so students will receive prompt feedback that they can then use for improvement.
  • Strengths and weaknesses are clearly delineated.
  • Completed rubrics can be used for assessment: how did your students do on each aspect of the assignment? You can focus your energies on improving what needs to be improved.

Recommended Reading:

Assessing Student Learning in Community Colleges, Janet Fulks (an online workbook -click the link at the left to access it).

The direct URL is:


Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education, Barbara E. Walvoord, Jossey-Bass, 2004.

Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, Linda Suskie, Anker, 2004.

Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education, Mary J. Allen, Anker, 2004.

Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback, and Promote Student Learning, Danelle D. Stevens, Stylus, 2005.

Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment, Barbara E. Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson, Jossey-Bass, 1998.

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