Assessing student learning outcomes: asking and answering questions about the efficacy of the curriculum

The primary purpose of assessing learning outcomes is the continuous improvement of student learning and degree program effectiveness.

The assessment of expected student learning outcomes is, in simple terms, asking and answering questions about the efficacy of the curriculum. Or, in other words, to what degree are students achieving the learning that the curriculum has been designed to effect?

This perspective, that assessment is inquiry into the efficacy of the curriculum, can be distilled into three statements for thinking about and operationalizing the assessment of expected student learning outcomes:

  1. Curriculum is a hypothesis. Curriculum is comprised of a set of multi-year learning experiences that we believe will create a base of knowledge and competencies for students. This is our hypothesis. In yet other words, “We will provide A expecting that students will achieve B.”
  2. Assessment is “testing” of this hypothesis. Does the curriculum have the intended effect on student learning? That is, “To what degree has A led to B?”
  3. Assessment findings should highlight strengths and gaps in the learning program. Assessment findings, thoughtfully prepared and analyzed, can yield useful information to guide decisions and plans for improving program and curriculum towards improving student learning and success.

The practice of assessing student learning to ask and answer questions about efficacy of the curriculum and to use the findings to inform the stewardship of the learning program is what it means to say that the purpose of assessment is continuous improvement.