skip to main content

Assessment Basics FAQ’s


Why do we do assessment?

The primary purpose of assessment is to systematically improve the quality of student learning, teaching, research, service, and processes at UM. We use our assessment process to demonstrate to our regional accrediting body, SACSCOC, that we are in compliance with a core requirement and several comprehensive standards required for accreditation. To ensure our compliance, every degree program and every unit on campus must provide evidence of improvement based on assessment results.

What is an outcome & how many do we need?

We recommend assessing 3 to 5 outcomes at any given time. For academic programs, three types of outcomes are recommended (2 Student Learning outcomes, 2 Educational Program outcomes, and 1 Student Achievement outcome).  For non-academic programs, the required 3 outcomes can range from a general statement of a current service (e.g., The assessment portion of the IREP website meets the needs of the UM Community) to statements of what you expect clients to know, think or be able to do as a result of the service (e.g., Participants demonstrate good assessment planning).

What are means of assessment & how many do we need?

The means of assessment is the way that the faculty and staff know they are achieving a particular outcome. We recommend that each outcome have at least two means of assessment, at least one of which should directly measure the outcome. By that, we mean, instead of asking a student or client how well they learned something, ask questions that test their knowledge.

Degree Programs

Why can’t we use course grades?

A course grade is made up a variety of components, including student performance. Some of the components of a grade may have very little to do with a specific outcome (e.g., attendance rarely relates directly to an outcome). Additionally, most courses help students develop several of the program outcomes. This variety of components makes course grades a poor choice for a means of assessment. However, please note, courses offer many opportunities to collect student artifacts and to embed questions for assessment purposes. These means of assessment often provide faculty with excellent information on which to base improvements.

Why can’t we use pass/fail on a comprehensive exam, prospectus, or defense?

As all graduates must pass these required components of the degree program, such assessments do not provide data that will likely point faculty to potential improvements. Faculty can however use item or component analyses to include comprehensive exams, thesis, and dissertations in the assessment plan. Faculty may develop a rubric with multiple levels of performance (e.g., pass with distinction, acceptable/pass, or unacceptable/fail) and multiple components (e.g., writing style, knowledge). The faculty would then examine the percent of students who pass with distinction for each component related to the outcome. For comprehensive exam questions that are graded as correct or incorrect, faculty may examine the percent of students correctly answering a particular question related to an outcome.

What are Student Learning Outcomes?

Student learning outcomes are general statements of what you expect students to know, think, or be able to do when they complete the program (e.g., Graduates demonstrate professional presentation skills).  The means of assessment should include direct examination of student work (e.g., papers, tests, presentations). At least two student learning outcomes are needed for each assessment plan.

What are Student Achievement Outcomes?

Student Achievement outcomes are general statements about the accomplishments of students who complete the program (e.g., Graduates will work secure or post-graduate placements in the field; Students will pass the state licensing examination; Students publish research or make presentations at professional meetings).  The means of assessment can include data from licensing boards, surveys (e.g., graduating student survey, alumni survey), information about scholarship produced by students, number of students who enroll in graduate/professional programs, and/or surveys of employers. At least one student achievement outcome is needed for each assessment plan.

What are Educational Program Outcomes?

Educational Program outcomes are general statements about the quality of the program (e.g., The program attracts and retains quality students, The program has an appropriate graduation rate, The program’s curriculum is appropriate for the degree, Students engage in scholarship and/or internships, Students are satisfied with the educational program, The program provides effective advising).  The means of assessment can include data from Institutional Research & Assessment (e.g., enrollment trends; retention and graduation rate data) and other sources (e.g., faculty activity report, graduating student survey), examination of the program by external reviewers, evidence that students have scholarly or professional student experiences, and/or surveys of faculty or students (e.g., student satisfaction). At least two educational program outcomes are needed for each assessment plan.