Assessment FAQ

What is assessment?

Assessment in the context of higher education typically refers to a process of gathering and analyzing data about student learning and program performance in order to inform future curriculum, pedagogy, and institutional policies.

Assessment could be conducted for different purposes and at different levels. Therefore, when discussing assessment, it is important to clarify assessment of “what,” i.e., the purpose of assessment.

At SUNY OW, academic assessment typically refers to assessment of academic programs, such as the Liberal Education program and degree (major) programs. The goal of this type of assessment is to evaluate academic programs (not individual courses) vis-a-vis their respective student learning goals.

Non-academic assessment (administrative and education support) refers to assessment of campus units that are not directly related to student learning.

Q. What is a student learning outcome (SLO)/ learning outcome (LO)?

A student learning outcome (SLO and LO are used interchangeably) refers to knowledge, skills and perspectives students are expected to demonstrate at the completion of academic training. SLOs are typically stated in a sentence that starts with “At the completion of this program/course students will…”

SLOs may be developed at an institutional level (what students are expected to learn college-wide), degree program level (what students are expected to learn within a major, often referred to as PSLOs), or course level (what students are expected to learn in a particular course, often referred to as CLOs).

Q. What ARE ISLOs? How is ISLO assessment different from other types of assessment?

ISLOs refer to Institutional Student Learning Outcomes. ISLOs are knowledge, skills and perspectives all students at an institution are expected to demonstrate at the completion of the degree. At SUNY OW, ISLOs include Liberal Education SLOs and other SUNY-prescribed competency student learning outcomes.

The purpose of ISLO assessment is to evaluate how students are achieving college-wide liberal education learning goals.

ISLO assessment is NOT the evaluation of overall instructional effectiveness of a particular course, therefore, it would be inappropriate to use its results to evaluate individual instructors.

Q. My course has learning Outcomes. How are ISLOs and PSLOs different?

They present learning objectives at different levels and details. Course-level learning outcomes are statements of what students are expected to learn in a course, while PSLOs articulate what students are expected to learn in an academic program, and ISLOs specify what students are expected to learn in an institution, regardless of an academic program. In general, course-level learning outcomes are more concrete and detailed than PSLOs/ISLOs.

Q. Who is responsible for conducting academic (ISLO and PSLO) assessment?

Assessment of the Liberal Education program (ISLOs) is coordinated by Liberal Education Committee (LEC). Academic departments conduct PSLO assessment for each degree program they offer. All ISLOs and PSLOs are assessed at least once in five years. Academic Departments schedule PSLO assessment so that Five Year Reviews will include results and the analysis of a complete set of PSLOs. The Co-Directors of Academic Assessment provide assistance for ISLO and PSLO academic assessment. Some schools and departments have designated staff and/or faculty to conduct assessment to meet discipline-specific accreditation needs.

Q. What does “Closing the loop” refer to?

In academic assessment, “closing the loop” refers to a process of continuous improvement. It is important that assessment results are utilized to improve student learning through curricular and pedagogical adjustments. This is the process of connecting assessment data with action plans.

Q. Who uses academic (ISLO and PSLO) assessment results?

Primary users of ISLO and PSLO assessment results are faculty who are responsible for the curricular development and pedagogical support for academic programs. For PSLO assessment, these are full time faculty of the housing department. For ISLO assessment, these are the members of Liberal Education Committee. Results of ISLO and PSLO assessment are also shared with Co-Directors of Academic Assessment and a broader College Community (in forms of Liberal Education Committee Report, Annual Assessment Report and Five Year Reviews) and may inform college-wide academic planning and accreditation reviews.

Q. Can we use academic assessment results to evaluate instructors (e.g., ARPT reviews)?

ISLO/PSLO assessment results should NOT be used to evaluate instructor effectiveness. Instructional effectiveness is only one of multiple factors that impact assessment results. For instance, poor results of PSLO assessment could be due to a misalignment between the PSLO and a course (i.e., a course is not designed to address a particular PSLO), which is an issue related to a program design and curriculum mapping, not to a instructor. Furthermore, ISLO/PSLO assessment only assess the level of learning regarding a particular learning outcome set by the institution/academic program, not all learning objectives of the course. ISLO/PSLO assessment is a poor measure of overall instructional effectiveness and should not be used for instructor evaluation or reappointment reviews.

Q. Does academic assessment interfere with academic freedom?

Academic assessment would interfere academic freedom if it is done inadequately and in an oppressive manner. In fact, academic assessment, when done well, would promote academic freedom by empowering instructors with empirical data and engaging them meaningfully with curriculum development.

Q. Can we use course grades for academic assessment?

Course grades are NOT appropriate for ISLO or PSLO assessment, unless criteria for grading and those of ISLO/PSLO assessment are identical. The purpose and scope of ISLO/PSLO assessment is different from grading. The purpose of ISLO/PSLO assessment is evaluating how students met a particular college-wide/program-wide learning goal. Meanwhile, course grades are affected by factors that are irrelevant to a particular ISLO/PSLO, e.g., missed or late assignments , editorial quality of written work, and/or other learning objectives of the course.