Assessment Toolkit

Defining Terminology 

It is important for our CMU community to have a shared language around assessment or the demonstration of student learning.  The following are common terms used in academic assessment, but for a full overview of terms, please visit the Assessment Toolkit resource repository

Assessment – The systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development. (Marchese, 1987; Palomba & Banta, 1999)  

Mission – A holistic vision of the values and philosophy of a program, department or institution.  

Program Goals – Statements that describe what the program will achieve. 

Course Goals – The goals of the course; what the instructor tends to cover and do. 

Course Objectives – Student expectations for the course; what the instructor expects the students to be able to know, to do or to believe by the end of the course. 

Student Learning Outcomes – The knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students should be able to demonstrate upon graduating from a program and/or institution.  

Direct Evidence – A tangible, visible, self-explanatory evidence of exactly what students have and have not learned. 

Indirect Evidence – Evidence that deduces student achievement of learning outcomes, e.g., through the students’ reported perception of their own learning.  

“Closing the loop” - Using assessment results for program change and improvement. 

Assessment Plan Components 

The following information outlines the basic requirements for CMU program assessment plans.  For more information, best practices, and examples, please visit the Assessment Toolkit resource repository


The program mission statement supports the University’s overall mission: 
At Central Michigan University, we are a community committed to the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, discovery, and creativity. We provide student-centered education and foster personal and intellectual growth to prepare students for productive careers, meaningful lives, and responsible citizenship in a global society. 

-Adopted by the Board of Trustees, December 2, 2010 

In addition, the program mission must meet the following criteria: 

  • Mission must describe aspirations of the program. 
  • Mission statement is clear. 
  • Mission statement informs public of its purpose. 
  • Mission statement articulates what it should be remembered for. 
  • Mission statement is broad. 


Program goals bridge the program mission with the student learning outcomes.  Programs should have at least one, and, ideally, no more than eight goals, which are clearly stated and guided by the following questions: 

  • What are the most important knowledge and skills students gain by studying in your field? 
  • What does your program contribute to that knowledge and skill base? 
  • What do you want students to know or be able to do at the end of your program? 
  • What do students think are the most valuable skills or abilities they have developed from taking this program? 
  • What do students think is the most important knowledge they have gained from taking this program? 
  • What do existing program descriptions state about the program? 
  • What distinguishes this program from other programs in the department or program? 
  • How do your program goals and objectives contribute to general education, program, and major goals? 

Student Learning Outcomes

Student learning outcomes describe what students should know, be able to do and/or be like (dispositions) by the end of the defined program.  Crafting student learning outcomes is not easy, but the effort is well worth it! 

When writing Student Learning Outcomes, the focus should be on observable outcomes and an “action verb” can provide that focus at the applicable level of learning.   Student Learning Outcomes usually begin with something like: 

By the end of the secondary education program, students will be able to design curriculum and instruction appropriate for the cognitive development of all learners. 

Design is the “action verb” in this example. 

By the end of the chemistry program, students will be able to apply knowledge of ions, solutions, and solubility to explain the formation and properties of homogeneous mixtures. 

Apply and explain are the “action verbs” in this example. 

There are good guidelines to assist you in writing student learning outcomes at our Assessment Toolkit resource repository and in the Explore Teaching and Learning section on Authoring Learning Outcomes and Objectives


Once observable student learning outcomes are defined, the next step is to clearly identify how students will demonstrate achievement.  These measures should be appropriately and clearly connected to one or more student learning outcomes. Ideally, both direct and indirect measures should be used to determine achievement on the student learning outcomes. 

A simple way of creating a measure is to answer these six questions: 

  • What is the measure? At a glance, can one gain an idea of the measurement instruction and its purpose? For instance, it is a test, portfolio, journal, or project? 
  • Why is the measure important? Out of all the measures available to assess students in your program, why is this one of the best measures? 
  • When is the measure used to assess student learning (per semester, annually, at the conclusion of the program)? 
  • Where does the measure fit in the program? In the curriculum sequence, is it at the beginning, middle, or conclusion? 
  • Who will administer, measure, and then evaluate the results (multiple faculty, program assessment committee)? 
  • How is the measure administered (online, paper documents, observation, survey)?  


Each measure should have an applicable target for each student learning outcome is assesses. The target clearly identifies the level of expected performance in quantifiable terms. Rubrics are very helpful in communicating performance levels and should be used when applicable. Some guiding questions that can assist include: 

  • Are the targets quantifiable in nature using numbers or percentages? 
  • Is the target population clearly defined? For instance, is the measure targeting a certain percentage of students in the major? 
  • Is the target reasonable? 
  • If benchmarks, such as national means, are used, are they accessible?  


Once all other pieces are in place, the final component of the plan is collecting, analyzing and using your resulting data. What conclusions can you draw from your findings and how can those be used for program improvements in the future? Were there limitations to your data collection efforts that need to be addressed for process improvements? 

In addition, how will you communicate your findings to important constituents – including students, CMU academic administration, and accreditation bodies?  For guidance and recommendations, review the Assessment Reporting Submission Process document in our Assessment Documents and Forms.