Assessment Basics

(Skip down to "General Assessment Links," "Books," or to "Examples")


This brief introduction to assessment is appropriate for academic departments and interdisciplinary programs, as well as co-curricular and student support programs, and other administrative functions. As you read about assessment or look at other websites, you may encounter terminology that is inconsistent or confusing. The terms "objectives," "goals," and "outcomes" in particular are used inconsistently. The existence of similar models for evaluation (such as the "Logic Model," the "CIPP Evaluation Model," or the "SMART Model") can add to the confusion. It is more important to understand the logic behind assessment than to adhere to any particular terminology. To the extent that the College uses particular terms, they are probably the ones used by the Middle States Commission for Higher Education, our accrediting agency.

Some links to readings and general resources are provided at the bottom of this page. See the link under Resources entitled "Conducting Assessment " for information specific to disciplines or functional areas.


  • Purpose of the program or function. What is it about, what is it here for, what are its essential values?
  • How does it contribute to the mission of the College?
  • Getting started: We often implicitly think about our missions when we describe ourselves for various purposes, so try looking at your catalogue descriptions and web site. Academic departments and programs should look at how they've described themselves in Admissions materials or in the catalog. Administrative units may have described their mission in job descriptions or annual reports. Check with diciplinary or professional associations. How might you describe a graduate of the program, or what should the xx program or function look like and accomplish?


  • Given this mission, what are the goals of the program or unit?
  • Goals are more specific than mission, but are still somewhat broad and long term.
  • They are the major roles and activities of the unit.


  • These are important, specific outcomes that would be observed if a goal was being achieved.
  • Objectives should be realistic, given current levels of resources.
  • Academic programs should identify desired student learning outcomes for courses, majors, and minors. Administrative units might focus on the results of specific service activities or administrative functions.


  • These are measurable activities that reflect the objectives.
  • What are the criteria for success? How will you know if you've achieved the objective?
  • It can be difficult to come up with measurable activities that reflect effectiveness (but identifying good objectives makes it easier). It's better to be creative and have multiple measures that, though imperfect, may accumulate helpful information, than it is to spend a great deal of time seeking a perfect measure that may not exist. The goal is to inform you if your activities are effective and in what ways they might be improved.
  • Try to find direct measures in addition to indirect measures. Surveys often come to mind first as a way to get feedback about our efforts. They can be very useful, but their measures are often indirect. There are likely many other ways to reflect the effectiveness of your activities.

"Closing the Loop"

  • Focus on a few objectives and conduct measurements during the cycle
  • Describe the results of the measurements
  • Discuss what the implications are. What have you learned?
  • The feedback loop is key — what actions result from your assessment? We conduct assessments in order to systematically identify important areas that might be improved. Do your findings suggest the need for changes? Further study? Modification of goals or objectives? Even if no changes should be made to an activity, this should be explicitly stated in your documentation of your assessment.

You should not expect to evaluate every goal and objective in every cycle! Start with a few that are important and manageable, and build from there. It is more important to get some useful feedback, though imperfect, than to either get no feedback, or become paralyzed while you seek the (often non-existent) perfect measures. Good assessment should be simple and effective. It should enhance our work, not deter us from it.

General Assessment Links

Our accreditating agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has many excellent publications available in .pdf. Here are a few that faculty and staff conducting assessment might find particularly useful.

  • "Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education" [pdf] published by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (our accrediting agency) for the Standards of Accreditation, especially:
    • Standard 7: Institutional Assessment (p. 21)
    • Standard 14: Assessment of Student Learning (p. 50)

Other higher education agencies have also provided helpful materials.


A number of very good, user-friendly books are available at McCabe Library, either physically or through EBL.

  • Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom.  Jossey-Bass, 2011. 2nd  ed.  This book was recommended by one of our humanities departments.
  • Suskie, Linda. Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide. Hoboken : John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010. 2nd ed. This new edition of an earlier work is written in the style of a manual, and has plenty of explanation and examples without overwhelming the reader.
  • Walvoord, Barbara E.  Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education. Hoboken : John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010. 2nd ed. Chapters 3 and 4 are especially useful for those trying to do assessment.
  • Wiggins, Grant P.  Understanding by design / Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Alexandria, VA : Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, c2005. Expanded 2nd ed. This is a pedogocially focused book that comes recommended by several of our faculty members.

General Examples

Below are links to information and more general or comprehensive examples and resources about collecting and using assessment measures. Examples and resources related to specific steps in the assessment process or to particular tools and approaches appear in other parts of this website as appropriate.

Discipline-Specific Assessment Planning

Student Support Areas