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Assessment Toolbox:10 Facts About Assessment of Student Learning

Student Studying
  1. The Federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education says that accountability, accreditation, and assessment of student learning are the top issues in higher education today (Field, 2006).

  2. Assessment is a process that involves defining expected outcomes; creating opportunities for all students to achieve those outcomes; gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and reporting evidence so that we may understand and improve student learning (Suskie, 2005).

  3. The focus is on student learning, that is, what students take away from their college experience. Student learning includes more than just the knowledge and skills in a major or discipline. It also includes other skills required for success in our modern technological society and to be "broadly educated citizens" - written and oral communication, critical thinking, quantitative and scientific reasoning, and technology literacy. And, student learning includes cognitive and personal development as well as career development.

  4. Measuring student learning requires expertise. While knowledge and skills in a major may be relatively easy to measure directly, measuring critical thinking or even written and oral communication requires specific assessment expertise. Assessment professionals understand which areas are best measured by tests and which are best measured by performances or portfolios graded with rubrics, or field supervisor and employer ratings. Surveys and focus groups are often used to assess student and alumni satisfaction, however, they do not directly measure student learning. It is best to have a variety of measures that lead to the same conclusions.

  5. Measuring student learning requires resources. The development of good instruments by skilled staff and purchase of other measures are costly.

  6. Accountability and the focus on student learning challenges colleges and universities to become learning organizations. Learning organizations are committed to evidence-based decision making. They define objectives or outcomes, create or structure programs and processes intentionally to accomplish those objectives, gather and analyze data, and use those data analyses to make improvements and inform planning in their organizations. As learning organizations, public institutions of higher education in Virginia use assessment results to improve curricula, allocate resources, and draft policies and procedures to enhance student learning.

  7. Assessment, accreditation, and the improvement of retention and graduation rates share a common focus on student learning. As institutional cultures change (driven partly by accrediting agencies) to focus on student learning, assessment becomes more valued for evidence-based decision making. As institutions improve and enhance their programs and policies based on assessment data, retention and graduation rates will improve as well (AASCU, 2005; Kuh, et al., 2005; Tinto, 2005).

  8. All public institutions of higher education in Virginia are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools - Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC) and most have additional specialized disciplinary accreditations. SACS-COC is the leader among the regional accrediting agencies in mandating assessment of student learning.

  9. Virginia was one of the first states to mandate assessment in the late 1980s. Assessment of student learning is a duty of the SCHEV per the code of Virginia and has been operationalized through the use of core competencies. The six core competency areas are writing, technology and information literacy, scientific reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and oral communication.

  10. Virginia is a leader in assessment. Virginia offers a diverse system of higher education to meet the needs and interests of the Commonwealth and its citizens. This diversity is reflected in the missions of the Commonwealth's institutions of higher education. Virginia students can attend 2- or 4-year, public or private, small or large, metropolitan or rural institutions. Each institution has something unique to offer, appeals to different groups of students, and each must be assessed in a way that honors its mission.


American Association of State Colleges and Universities. (2005, September). Student success in state colleges and universities: A matter of culture and leadership. Washington, DC: Author.

Field, K. (2006, March 31). Federal panel considers giving colleges a 'gentle shove' toward accountability testing. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved March 31, 2006 from http://chronicle.com/temp/email2.php?id=TjKTxnxt2pjYGNCm9gCGP6Ct3cbbSDnB

Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., Whitt, E. J., & Associates. (2005). Student success in college: Creating conditions that matter. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Suskie, L. (2004). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Co., Inc.

Tinto, V. (2005, September 15). Student success and the building of involving educational communities. Paper presented at Seattle University. Retrieved September 12 from http://www.seattleu.edu/cetl/tinto.htm.

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