L&S Assessment FAQ - What does an "Assessment Plan" look like? What should an "Assessment Report" convey? How is this information used?

This document offers suggestions for preparing assessment plans and reports, with links to a variety of materials that have been shared with or presented to L&S departments and programs about assessing student learning in L&S academic programs.

Documents related to the formal assessment of student learning reflect the faculty's aspirations about what students will know or be able to do as a result of engaging in particular programs of study. The faculty that oversees these programs identify learning outcomes appropriate to the program, measure students' attainment of those outcomes, and act on what they discover about student learning so they can make improvements if the data suggest improvement is needed. 

Regular reports on assessment help the college and university tell our story about what students learn and how we know that they're learning.  The Office of the Provost is currently engaged in a multi-year, campus-wide project to gather learning goals, curricular maps, assessment plans, and annual assessment reports for all UW-Madison academic programs associated with degrees - that is, undergraduate majors, degree-majors, and graduate degree-majors.  (While this project is under way, L&S is not requiring any additional assessment reports submitted to the college.)  For people who are new to assessment, the public portal, Student Learning Assessment, is a great place to start. The site contains links to templates and guides, the campus-level assessment toolkit, announcements about workshops, and a link to the "Inside Assessment" intranet site. A UW-Madison netID is required to log into the intranet site. We encourage authors of Assessment Plans to follow the standard plan template that is provided on that site, here

An Overview of an Assessment Plan Template

Assessment Plans are intended to convey multi-year plans for sustained attention to assessment.  Plans contain the following elements, and often include projections for how various learning outcomes will be assessed over several years. 

Section What we expect to see
Learning goals

A list of 3-5 learning goals, described from the students' perspective. State clearly what students are expected to KNOW or DO when they've completed the program.

Tip: For help writing learning goals, consider these tips.  In general, think about goals in terms of action verbs connected to learning: describe what students actively gain from what they learn and do in the program, not what the program "provides" or "makes available to" them.

Examples: In 2014-15, a newly centralized campus-wide initiative was undertaken to gather in one repository the learning outcomes associate with all UW-Madison programs. These were reported to the Provost's Office, and are available to campus colleagues via the "Inside Assessment Planning" site.

Questions about Graduate Level program goals? The Graduate School has articulated broad learning outcomes for graduate programs; departments/programs may adopt or adapt these goals for their own programs. See Policy Updates and Announcements - 2014 - Graduate Student Learning Goals for more information.

Where do students learn those things? 

Where in the curriculum do students learn and apply the knowledge and skills specified in the learning goals stated above?

Tip: Look carefully at the program requirements. Do the courses the program requires connect to the learning goals? If students are expected to learn how to do something, do they learn about it, practice it, and get feedback for improvement?
How and when do you measure that students can do those things? 

How do you document that students have learned and can do these things?  

Tip: This list of measurements should include at least one "direct" measure of student performance.  (This diagram illustrates the difference between direct and indirect measures.)

Tip: Sustainable assessment plans reflect program priorities and set reasonable timelines for assessment, with at least one activity under way each year, and all goals reviewed in a three-year cycle.  (See this example for an illustration of a sample assessment schedule .)

So what?
Responsibility, reporting, and

Identify the people (by function or committee) who are responsible for assessing student learning and for communicating with others about assessment results. To whom are assessment results reported, so they are most likely to effect change (e.g., departmental curriculum and executive committees)? What happens with results, and are they used for change/improvement?

Tips: Remember to ensure that records are kept to ensure continuity in the process across changes in staff and in committee assignments. Records of assessment activities and outcomes help to ensure successful program review, accreditation, and for requests for curricular change and/or program development. The plan should also include a brief discussion of how the assessment plan itself will be evaluated and revised.

An Overview of Assessment Reports

In general, reports on assessment activity contain the following sections:

Section What we expect to see
Overview  A simple statement describing the program. (e.g., "at the baccalaureate level, X Major is a popular liberal arts major in which students attain critical thinking, quantitative, and communication skills in both theoretical and applied aspects of _____.") Please include information about the number of majors, degrees conferred annually, etc. (This is the sort of information that could be carried over from one report to another.)
Learning objectives or goals assessed

Referring to the list of student learning objectives/goals that were discussed in the program assessment plan, identify the learning outcome(s) that were the focus of the assessment activity: what did you study about what you want students to know, value and/or do?

Assessment strategy

Describe the assessment, strategies, methods, and analysis used to assess the learning goal(s) (e.g., graduating student surveys, embedded questioning, alumni surveys, capstone assignments, etc.)


Key findings and impact

Summarize the key findings (evidence/results) and how the department or program plans to use this information (e.g., no curricular changes, program enhancements, program redesign, etc.).  This may include to whom results were reported to effect change (if needed),whether the results suggested other areas of inquiry,plans for continued attention to assessment (including "tweaking" the assessment plan),and/or deadlines for achieving milestones related to the above activities.


What types of requests might use assessment results?

The results of efforts to understand how and how well students are meeting the expectations set for academic programs are used in many ways.
  • Assessment can lead to changes in the course array.  After articulating learning outcomes for the program, the faculty conducts a "curriculum mapping" exercise to see where those outcomes are conveyed to students.  They decide to create a few new courses and refocus a few existing courses (which, in turn, calls for revisions to titles and catalog descriptions), and to be sure that all courses that meet requirements are linked to the learning outcomes.  
  • Assessment can lead to changes in requirements for existing programs.  After researching how well students in a capstone course do in responding to a "real world" problem, the faculty decides that all students would meet research and communication requirements better if they were required to take a methods course earlier in their careers.  Several intermediate-level elective courses are redesigned to incorporate more emphasis on writing and research.  The program requirements are revised so students in the program must take one of these electives before they can enroll in the capstone course.
  • Assessment provides evidence for changes to the program array.  An academic program has steadily growing enrollments over several years.  The faculty obtains evidence that students are primarily pursuing two of three tracks, and that students are performing better overall in these tracks than in the less popular track.  The faculty decides that these programs are sufficiently distinct and stable that they should be  formalizes as transcripted options.  They also decide that the moribund track may safely be eliminated.  (Assessment results may also lead the faculty to propose to add or eliminate majors or degree programs.)
  • Assessment provides information for accreditation and program review.  Assessment results must be reported as part of the regular review of academic programs (see L&S Guidelines for Program Review ) and, for accredited programs, in self-studies prepared for purposes of maintaining (or seeking) accreditation.  This information helps the review committee gauge program quality, while also revealing institutional capacity for managing programs, reflecting in a meaningful way on evidence about student learning, and maintaining a focus on improving student learning.

The intention of all of these changes is to use what the faculty understands about student learning to improve learning, programmatic opportunities, and use limited resources to better effect.

Where can we find examples of assessment plans and reports?

All L&S Assessment Plans, Reports, and updates are available on this site:  L&S Department and Program Assessment Plans .  The original Department of Jurassic Studies Assessment Plan  and the 2004 update are also available on this site, and in 2014-15, that fictional department plan was updated using the new assessment plan template.

Does L&S have a college-wide assessment plan?

L&S has had a college-wide assessment plan for several years.  In 2012, the L&S Curriculum Committee developed a more detailed plan, in which the committee articulated learning outcomes for undergraduates as well as principles for assessment at the graduate level.  This plan was approved by the L&S Academic Planning Council. 

The L&S CC encourages departments and programs to consider aligning their discipline-based plans with the College plan.

I still don't get it.  Whom can I call for help?

Elaine Klein is the Associate Dean for Academic Planning.  Please contact elaine.klein<at>wisc.edu, or call (608) 265-8484.

See Also:

Keywords:Assessment of Student Learning, Assessment Reports, Jurassic Studies, liberal arts and science, LAS learning outcomes   Doc ID:25242
Owner:Elaine K.Group:College of Letters & Science
Created:2012-07-20 16:01 CDTUpdated:2016-07-19 11:00 CDT
Sites:College of Letters & Science
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