Assessment of Learning–Overview

What is “Assessment” in Higher Education?
Assessment in higher education is usually described as “The ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves making our expectations explicit and public; setting appropriate criteria and high standards for learning quality; systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well performance matches those expectations and standards; and using the resulting information to document, explain, and improve performance. When it is embedded effectively within our institutional system, assessment can help us focus our collective attention, examine our assumptions, and create a shared academic culture dedicated to assuring and improving the quality of higher education (Thomas A. Angelo, AAHE Bulletin, November 1995, p.7).

The word “assessment” is used in a variety of contexts within higher education (e.g., “institutional assessment”, “curricular and program assessment”, “course and learner-centered assessment”). In the context of “assessment of student learning” there are (essentially) two types of assessment — program assessment, and assessment of student learning outcomes.

Program assessment (which includes “Academic Program Review”, [assessment of progress at the departmental level]) is the process by which we gather data on student learning and review these data in aggregate to answer the question, “Are our students learning what we expect them to learn?” The focus of assessment in this regard is not the individual student but the program as a whole. Issues pertaining to, for example, enrollment, retention, curriculum, graduation, placement, and satisfaction are part of program assessment. It focuses on what the faculty and program curriculum will provide.

Assessment of student learning outcomes, on the other hand, encompasses a wide range of student attributes and abilities, both cognitive and affective, which are a measure of how their college experiences have supported their development as individuals. Cognitive outcomes include demonstrable acquisition of specific knowledge and skills, as in a major (what do students know that they didn’t know before, and what can they do that they couldn’t do before?). Affective outcomes relate to questions such: how has their college experience shaped students’ values, goals, attitudes, self-concepts, worldviews, and behaviors? How has it enhanced their value to themselves, their families, and their communities?

“Assessment” in this guide is considered as the systematic collection and analysis of information to improve student lifelong learning, as noted by Huba and Freed:

“Assessment is the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences; the process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning.”

See: Huba, M. E. and Freed, J. E. (2000). Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses — Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning. Boston, Allyn and Bacon.

Event description

We address a variety of issues related to successful student and program assessment including what may be assessed and how to assess. We conclude by leading a discussion on the development of a supportive classroom environment, the encouragement of active and intentional learning, and the importance of reflecting on one’s teaching.

Event last offered

“Assessment Tools for Your Course” – Professor Danielle Mihram, September 13, 2007, 1-3 PM, Leavey Auditorium



Internet Resources


  • Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (Previously published as: Assessment in Higher Education 1975-1981). Available online from 09/01/1997 to 09/01/2000 in ProQuest Research Library
    “… [A] peer-reviewed journal which publishes papers and reports on all aspects of assessment and evaluation within higher education. Its purpose is to advance understanding of assessment and evaluation practices and processes, particularly the contribution that these make to student learning and to course, staff and institutional development.”
  • Deliberations – An international website on issues of learning and teaching for the higher education community. Start year: 1995.
    Key word search: “Assessment”
  • JGE: The Journal of General Education. Start year: 1946.
    Addresses the general education concerns of community colleges, four-year colleges, universities, and state systems. Available online from 2000 to present in Project Muse.
    Keyword search: “Assessment of learning”
  • Journal of Higher Education. Start year: 1930.
    Available online in databases: from 01/01/1996 to present in Education Full Text and Wilson OmniFile: Full Text Mega Edition; and from 02/01/2002 to present in Project Muse.
    Keyword search: “Assessment of learning”
    “Articles combine disciplinary methods with critical insight to investigate issues important to faculty, administrators, and program managers.”
  • Journal of Research & Practice in Assessment. Start year: 2006
    “… a research journal focusing on the broad range of issues facing assessment professionals.”
    Keyword search: “Assessment of learning”
  • Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation (PARE). Start year: 1999.
    An on-line journal [whose] purpose is to provide access to refereed articles that can have a positive impact on assessment, research, evaluation, and teaching practice.
    Keyword search: “Assessment”

Additional Suggested Readings

  • Berheide, Catherine White (2007). “Doing Less Work, Collecting Better Data: Using Capstone Courses to Assess Learning,” Peer Review 9(2), Spring 2007.
  • Diamond, Robert M. (2008). Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula: A Practical Guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    DOH B2361.5.D5 2008
  • Driscoll, A. and Wood, S. (2007). Developing Outcomes-Based Assessment for Learner-Centered Education. Sterling, Va.: Stylus.
    [Numerous case studies with concrete examples of what worked and what did not]
  • Huba, M. E. & Freed, J. E. (2000). Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses – Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
    DOH LB2331.H83 2000 [EXCEL-TEACH]
  • Martell, Kathryn and Thomas Calderon, Eds. (2005). Assessment of Student Learning in Business Schools: Best Practices Each Step of the Way. Tallahassee, FL: Association for Institutional Research and AACSB International (2 Vols.).
    DOH HF1106.A846 2005
  • Palomba, C. A. and Banta, T. W. (1999). Assessment Essentials: Planning, Implementing, and Improving Assessment in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    DOH B2366.2.P35 1999
  • Shepherd, Eric, and Janet Godwin (2004). Assessments through the Learning Process. Questionmark White Paper, Questionmark Corporation.

Megasite on Assessment: Internet Resources for Higher Education Outcomes Assessment, NC State. Includes

  • General Resources
  • Assessment handbooks
  • Assessment of specific skills or content
  • Individual institution’s assessment-related pages (alphabetical listing)
  • Accrediting bodies
  • Student Assessment of courses and faculty

See also: