Why Assess Student Learning?

We all know… at Albion, we are deeply committed to excellence in teaching.

We are often less clear about how to reflect on students’ learning beyond traditional testing measures. Furthermore, we are less clear on engaging in cross-disciplinary dialogue about measuring the quality of student learning.

We all know… that higher education is being held ever more accountable by:

  • the Federal Government, which determines the level of financial aid to make available to college and university students;
  • Accreditation Agencies, which determine licensure for colleges and universities;
  • Students and their Families, who regularly use online searches such as Fiske Guide to Colleges, “College Factual,” College Confidential’s “SuperMatch,”, etc. to determine the value of a college or university to them.

We are often less clear about how assessment of student learning is linked to accountability. How they are similar but not the same thing.

How to get beyond these challenges?

If we truly believe in the importance of student learning, we need to know what students are doing well in order to make improvements. We have recently established evidence-based procedures at Albion that are thoughtful, valid, and based on best practices.

What we have done? Where are we going?

Student Learning Outcome = Students Will Be Able To... (Action!)

A Paradigm Shift Toggle Accordion

A paradigm shift in assessment occurred at Albion College in 2015, with assessment practices becoming more integrated into the college’s workings. They are evidence-based assessment that builds on best practices in higher education were implemented.

Committee for Student Learning Outcomes Toggle Accordion

These learner-centered practices rely on “Student Learning Outcomes” (SLOs). The Committee on Student Learning Outcomes was established to implement and oversee the College’s Assessment Plan and assessment of general education, as well as to assure compliance with the requirements of the Higher Learning Commission on assessment (Albion College Faculty Handbook October 2017).

Assessing Student Learning Outcomes Toggle Accordion

The College began assessing SLOs for the Core curriculum (Modes, Categories, and First Year Seminars). The rubrics being used are informed by the American Association of Colleges and University’s Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education, better known as the VALUE Rubrics. The choice of each item of the rubrics was determined after inclusive faculty input and thoughtful review of the criteria.

Developed by Academic Departments Toggle Accordion

SLOs have been developed by academic departments and programs, as well. Departmental assessment includes curricular mapping of SLOs, and using evidence of student learning as a basis for programmatic change.

Where can I go for help?



  • The Committee on Student Learning Outcomes.
  • For help or more information, contact Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Drew Dunham: [email protected].

What Are Characteristics of Good Assessment?

Keep it simple; make it useful. Not measuring everything every year; based on a workable assessment cycle.

Assessment Cycle

  • Generating good data (Year 1)
  • Analyzing the data (Year 2)
  • Implementing change based on evidence (Year 3)

What is the difference between TESTING and ASSESSING?

While they may both serve as DIRECT MEASURES of student learning, they do not necessarily have the same function…

  • “Testing” most often measures lessons learned in a particular course, over a specific timeframe (i.e. chapter tests; midterm exams).
  • “Testing” usually evaluates an array of skills (define, explain, solve, analyze, design, etc.) at a time as they reflect the particular course content and the level of the course (100-level, 200-level, etc.) within the program.
  • “Testing” typically focuses on achievement of an individual student in a particular course.


  • “Assessing” generally considers a particular skill or skill set.
  • “Assessing” considers students’ development of a particular skill/skill set over time (i.e., throughout their undergraduate studies).
  • “Assessing” seeks to identify areas needing improvement, with its basic notion of continuous program improvement, rather than aiming to “get an A.”
  • “Assessing” focuses not only on learning through coursework, but in co-curricular settings, in General Education, etc. to reflect on the quality of the student’s undergraduate experience.

What has changed for Academic Departments and Programs?

  • Establishing: Establishing SLOs for departments and programs
  • Creating: Creating a curricular map of SLOs for major, minor and core courses
  • Gathering: Gathering direct evidence of student learning, informed by (but not limited to) the VALUE Rubrics, as well as current disciplinary standards, major field tests, etc.
  • Including: Including external reviews as part of program review.
  • Formulating: Formulating an assessable 5-year plan post Program Review to chart departmental and programmatic development.