Assessment Steps

Effective assessment starts with outlining the expectations of a program. These expectations are set forth in the mission statements, goals, objectives and outcomes of the University and academic departments.


Step 1: ARTICULATE PROGRAM MISSIONS, GOALS, and OBJECTIVES. A mission statement is an overarching, concise statement that outlines the purpose and principles of each entity. Departmental mission statements align with the University mission statement and program mission statements align with departmental mission statements.

Goals flow from mission statements and state, in general terms, what we intend to accomplish. These statements are broad and describe the main purpose of the program. Program objectives are similar to goals as both state what the teacher expects students to learn. They describe the intended purposes and expected results of teaching activities and establish the foundation for assessment.  Goals are broad statements about general aims or purposes of education while objectives are clear, concise statements that describe the desired learning outcomes. There are three types of learning objectives, which reflect different aspects of student learning:

  • Cognitive objectives: “What do you want your graduates to know?
  • Affective objectives: “What do you want your graduates to think or care about?
  • Behavioral objectives: “What do you want your graduates to be able to do?

Objectives can also reflect different levels of learning:

  • Mastery objectives are typically concerned with the minimum performance essentials – those learning tasks/skills that must be mastered before moving on to the next level of instruction.
  • Developmental objectives are concerned with more complex learning outcomes – those learning tasks on which students can be expected to demonstrate varying degrees of progress.
  • Instructional objectives describe in detail the behaviors that students will be able to perform at the conclusion of a unit of instruction such as a class, and the conditions and criteria which determine the acceptable level of performance.

Both goals and objectives use the language of outcomes. The characteristic which distinguishes goals from objectives is the level of specificity.  Goals express intended outcomes in general terms and objectives express them in specific terms.

(Assessment Primer: Goals, Objectives and Outcomes. Retrieved from

Step 2: ARTICULATE PROGRAM LEARNING OUTCOMES. Program learning outcomes are statements that show what students have actually achieved. Objectives show INTENDED results while outcomes show ACHIEVED results.

Specific action verbs are necessary in writing learning outcomes so that outcomes are measureable. Bloom’s Taxonomy is an excellent tool providing action verbs that help best state the intended outcome.

There are several ways to use the acronyms for student learning outcomes (SLOs). They vary among and within institutions. Evangel University determined that the following acronyms will be defined as: (PLOs) program learning outcomes, (CLOs) course learning outcomes, and (SLOs) student learning outcomes. SLOs and CLOs are often used interchangeably at the course level. Various departmental accreditors may require a particular nomenclature; thus, a particular department will use the required language of their accreditor.

Step 3: DETERMINE ASSESSMENT CRITERIA. How will program learning outcomes be achieved? A curriculum map is useful in determining courses that already align with each program outcome. Below is an example of a curriculum map outlining the courses that meet the PLOs.

View a sample curriculum map

After determining where and how PLOs will be met in a program, establishing multiple methods and instruments for assessing PLO’s is important for a successful assessment program. Alignment of measurable outcomes to measurement tools must be clear and directly linked.

Step 4: GATHER DATA. The next step involves actual data collection to determine if program learning outcomes are being met. There are various types of data: formative, summative, direct, indirect, objective, subjective, traditional, performance, embedded, quantitative, and qualitative, among others.

Step 5: ANALYZE FINDINGS. Step 5 requires review, analysis, and interpretation of data. Each program coordinator organizes the data gathered and presents it to departmental faculty for review. Departmental faculty discuss the “successes” and “failures” found in the findings and determine the necessary steps needed to make improvements.

Step 6: RECOMMEND ACTIONS/PROGRAM IMPROVEMENTS. The final step is that of recommending an action plan for improvement. This improvement plan is outlined on the Assessment Report template. To close the loop, the process begins again when data is gathered to determine if the improvement plan was effective.