Residential Curriculum Element #10: Assessment Occurs at All Levels: From Educational Priority to Learning Goals and Outcomes

In order to be successful, a curriculum must be supported by a robust plan for assessment. This includes assessment at all levels of the curriculum–from educational priority to learning goals and outcomes.

When beginning a curriculum, institutions may have a number of broad assessment measures already in place. These could include summative assessments, accomplished through national standardized instruments, as well as procedures for individual real-time assessments. Assessing a curriculum can draw from these available resources, but often requires a re-orientation and a deepening of commitment to assessing student learning. This includes going beyond satisfaction towards assessments that measure actual student learning.

Measuring Tape

When developing assessment plans, it is important to recognize that curricula often attempt to achieve two types of objectives: learning outcomes and program outcomes. Learning outcomes outline what students learn whereas program outcomes outline what students do. For example, we want to teach students about study abroad, its benefits, how it will enhance their studies, and the opportunities available. These are learning outcomes. However, we also want students to actually study abroad, not just learn about it. It is well known that study abroad programs pay many educational dividends. Therefore, through assessment, one should track not only what a student learns, but also what they do (their behavior).

Below is an example of some different learning and program outcomes related to students developing academic and career planning skills. Each would entail a different type of assessment:

Students will develop academic and career planning skills.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will be able to identify career and professional interests.
  • Students will be able to associate their career and professional interests with a major field of study.
  • Students will be able to outline the requirements of majors of interest.
  • Students will be able to recall how to declare their major and who to contact for further assistance.
  • Students will be able to identify resources to help them through the registration process.
  • Students will be able to explain how the registration system works.

Program Outcomes:

  • Students will select a major or minor program of study in alignment with their strengths and career interests.
  • Students will have at least one contact in the school or college of their interest.
  • Students will successfully register for courses related to their program of study.
  • Students will feel supported through the registration process.

In this instance, both sets of outcomes are equally important. Whereas an upper-level administrator may be most concerned with the program outcomes, as they are often measured by defined “hard numbers” and used in the calculation of rankings and other measures of educational quality, the learning outcomes are equally as important as they are the objectives that help move the needle on these numbers. Successful assessment of a curriculum incorporates all of these measures.

Key Questions:

  • What types of summative and in-the-moment assessments do you utilize?
  • Are your assessment questions set up to assess actual learning or are they relying on self-reported learning? How can you change this?
  • What learning outcomes and what program outcomes are most important to you?
  • How can you establish benchmarks?

Reference: Kerr, K. G., Tweedy, J., Edwards, K. E., & Kimmel, D. (2017, March-April). Shifting to curricular approaches to learning beyond the classroom. About Campus, 22(1), 22-31. doi:10.1002/abc.21279

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