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What Is Assessment?


Various definitions of assessment and the role it plays in teaching and learning:

  1. Assessment involves the use of empirical data on student learning to refine programs and improve student learning. (Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education by Allen 2004)
  2. Assessment is the process of gathering and discussing information from multiple and diverse sources in order to develop a deep understanding of what students know, understand, and can do with their knowledge as a result of their educational experiences; the process culminates when assessment results are used to improve subsequent learning. (Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: shifting the focus from teaching to learning by Huba and Freed 2000)
  3. Assessment is the systematic basis for making inferences about the learning and development of students. It is the process of defining, selecting, designing, collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and using information to increase students' learning and development. (Assessing Student Learning and Development: A Guide to the Principles, Goals, and Methods of Determining College Outcomes by Erwin 1991)
  4. Assessment is the systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development. (Assessment Essentials: planning, implementing, and improving assessment in higher education by Palomba and Banta 1999)



Assessment at Westminster begins with the goals for student learning articulated in the College Mission and Outcomes Statements. These institutional goals are implemented at the program and course levels. Assessment at these levels provides information that enables the College to determine the extent to which its goals for student learning are being met. Assessment data also guides revision at the program and course levels designed to enhance student learning.


Fundamental Components of Assessment

Four fundamental elements of learner-centered assessment:

  1. Formulating Statements of Intended Learning Outcomes - statements describing intentions about what students should know, understand, and be able to do with their knowledge when they graduate.
  2. Developing or Selecting Assessment Measures - designing or selecting data gathering measures to assess whether or not our intended learning outcomes have been achieved. Includes
    1. Direct assessments - projects, products, papers/theses, exhibitions, performances, case studies, clinical evaluations, portfolios, interviews, and oral exams - which ask students to demonstrate what they know or can do with their knowledge.
    2. Indirect assessments - self-report measures such as surveys - in which respondents share their perceptions about what graduates know or can do with their knowledge.
  3. Creating Experiences Leading to Outcomes - ensuring that students have experiences both in and outside their courses that help them achieve the intended learning outcomes.
  4. Discussing and Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning - using the results to improve individual student performance.

(Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: shifting the focus from teaching to learning by Huba and Freed 2000)


The Assessment Cycle

Westminster has translated these fundamental components into an assessment cycle that includes four stages: Plan-Do-Check-Act.

  • Plan - What do I want students to learn?
    This stage includes the first fundamental component of assessment: Formulating Statements of Intended Learning Outcomes
  • Do - How do I teach effectively?
    This stage includes the second and third fundamental components: Developing or Selecting Assessment Measures & Creating Experiences Leading to Outcomes.
  • Check - Are my outcomes being met?
    This stage involves evaluation of assessment data (part of the fourth component).
  • Act - How do I use what I've learned?
    This stage involves reinforcing successful practices and making revisions to enhance student learning (part of the fourth component).