Commitment to Assessment

for Continuous Improvement

What assessment is:

Assessment is the systematic collection of information over time about student learning and the use of that information to create a continuing cycle of improved teaching and learning which should be infused into pedagogy, curriculum, and program planning and decisions (East Los Angeles College SLO Philosophy Statement). Assessment is used to help the university understand how our different courses, programs and services affect students throughout their time with us so that all can better coordinate and improve the student’s learning experience.

Why we engage in assessment: 

St. Thomas uses assessment of student learning outcomes primarily to understand, and thereby continuously improve student learning through informed decision making and planning. Specifically, assessments are used to:

  • improve student learning, feedback and guidance,
  • help improve educational (both academic and cocurricular) programs and courses, and
  • provide staff, faculty, and students with opportunities to reflect on their practice and learning.

Because the purpose of assessment is to improve student learning and the quality of our educational programs, assessment is about wanting to find our weaknesses and improve upon them. It’s okay – and even good and important – to set high standards and take risks with our student learning outcomes in order to actively and continuously improve student learning. Ultimately student learning assessment needs to be meaningful for staff and faculty in terms of continuous improvement of their students’ learning and of their educational programs.

A key question we want to answer with assessment is "are our students learning what we told them we would teach them, and can we provide evidence of that?" Staff and faculty should use that evidence to engage in meaningful reflection and efforts to improve student learning.

Assessment is everyone’s responsibility. All aspects of the assessment process are conducted with a spirit of collaboration among staff and faculty within all programs and departments, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. There is collective investment in the commitment to effective teaching and learning and overall institutional effectiveness.

The principles that guide assessment at St. Thomas:

St. Thomas uses the nine principles below to guide our assessment of student learning. For more information, see AAHE’s (1992) “9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning.” 

  1. The assessment of student learning begins with educational values.
  2. Assessment is most effective when it reflects an understanding of learning as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.
  3. Assessment works best when the programs it seeks to improve have clear, explicitly stated purposes.
  4. Assessment requires attention to outcomes but also and equally to the experiences that lead to those outcomes.
  5. Assessment works best when it is ongoing, not episodic.
  6. Assessment fosters wider improvement when representatives from across the educational community are involved.
  7. Assessment makes a difference when it begins with issues of use and illuminates questions that people really care about.
  8. Assessment is most likely to lead to improvement when it is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.
  9. Through assessment, educators meet responsibilities to students and to the public.

How we assess student learning.

Creating student learning outcomes:

  • Each educational program should articulate a set of student learning outcomes. Educational programs include both degrees and certificates as well as cocurricular programs.  Outcomes should require levels of student performance appropriate to the credential awarded.
  • When creating student learning outcomes, the first and most foundational question is the following: “What do we expect our students to know and be able to do upon completion of their academic or cocurricular program?”
  • Student learning outcomes are explicit statements describing knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes that a student will be able to demonstrate at the end (or as a result) of his/her engagement in an academic or cocurricular program. For example, students will be able to <action verb> <something>.
  • Student learning outcomes should be systematically infused across each program’s curriculum. In other words, where is each student learning outcome introduced, reinforced, mastered, and assessed in each program’s curriculum?

 Measuring student learning outcomes.

  • In assessing each student learning outcome, staff and faculty should use direct assessments, which are the products of student work (e.g., student work from a course project, assignment, or exam).
    • Faculty should use indirect assessments only as supplemental evidence to direct assessments. Indirect assessments focus on students’ opinions or thoughts about their knowledge, skills, attitudes, learning experiences, and perceptions.
    • Staff and faculty should use authentic assessments, which are those that students take seriously and see as relevant to the course and educational program.
    • There is no single best method for measuring and assessing student learning outcomes. Assessment can be quantitative or qualitative. The important point is to have direct and authentic measures of student learning for each outcome.

 Analyzing results of student learning outcomes and using those results to improve our students’ learning:

  • Staff and faculty should reflect on how they could improve their students’ learning, even when a target or threshold of a student learning outcome is met.
  • Staff and faculty should collectively reflect as a department/program/unit on the assessment results and how the results can or do speak to improving student learning.