Get Started with Program Assessment

Faculty working together

Assessment Framework

Assessment occurs at the course, program, and institution levels. To tell the story of how successful Portland State is in educating all students, faculty and staff engage in assessment of student learning. In this section, the IAC shares a framework for course-level assessment and connecting it to program-level goals and assessment. Program-level assessment results are then reported in the Academic Program Review process and are ultimately used in institutional accreditation too.

Ten Suggestions for More Successful Assessment

  1. Start with important questions.
  2. Focus on things you can improve.
  3. Plan, but be flexible and willing to adapt as you learn.
  4. Start small.
  5. Build in success from the start.
  6. Get students, faculty, and others actively involved.
  7. Set limits on time and effort you’ll invest.
  8. Collaborate with others who share your concerns.
  9. Remember that assessment may be new to many of your students and colleagues.
  10. Enjoy experimentation and risk-taking, not just success.

Assessment Planning

Assessment is part of a discovery (inquiry) process, where you uncover what students know, can do, and believe as a result of participating in your course or a program of study. The questions you seek to answer will direct you to the appropriate assessment method. The desired state is to assess these things about students while there is time to redirect a course of study. Assessment occurs at the course level. Educators set learning objectives at the course level that are also linked to program objectives. At each stage in this assessment cycle, information gleaned can be used to inform the next stage or a previous stage. Each step of the process should strive for transparency, this may include: publicly articulating program goals, sharing results in a clear and meaningful way with all invested parties, encouraging participants’ help in analyzing data, and sharing how results impacted program development.

Principles of Good Assessment Practice

Principle 1: Effective assessment begins with educational values.

It is our mission, vision and values that drive what we do in practice. Assessment efforts begin with values that are then expressed through actions in the delivery of our programs and services. We use assessment as a tool to measure that which we value.

Principle 2: Effective assessment reflects an understanding of organizational outcomes as multidimensional, integrated, and revealed in performance over time.

Assessment is most effective when it is rooted and developed in the programs and services where measurable changes occur. It needs to include a variety of methods to accurately measure the complexity of the environments in which we work.

Principle 3: Effective assessment only works well when there are clear and explicitly stated goals and objectives.

Clearly articulated goals linked to mission, vision, and values are the foundation for effective assessment practice. From this foundation, we articulate measurable objectives that will inform our practice and our vision and values.

Principle 4: Effective assessment addresses outcomes as well as the processes that lead to them.

Assessing processes allows us to put findings from assessing outcomes into perspective. It allows us to know what worked in the delivery of programs and service, and under what conditions.

Principle 5: Effective assessment is ongoing, systemic and systematic.

Tracking progress of a program over time lends credibility to the results of program assessment. We focus on continuous improvement of our programs and services, and use previous assessment findings to inform our decision making. Many changes to student learning and development need to be tracked over time, and one-shot assessment would not accurately show the changes/impacts we would hope to see.

Principle 6: Effective assessment is a collaborative process and needs to involve representatives from across student affairs and the institution.

As our assessment efforts are tied to the University mission and vision, assessment practice in both Student Affairs and Academic Affairs speak to fulfilling this vision. We all share a common framework for a comprehensive campus-wide assessment of student learning, development and satisfaction.

Principle 7: Effective assessment must be linked to what people care about in order to be useful.

For assessment information to be useful, it needs to be connected to the questions or issue we truly care about. We start with the end in mind, by deciding how we will use information. What questions do we need to ask to know if our program and services were successful in meeting our objectives?

Principle 8: Effective assessment is part of a larger set of conditions that promote change.

Student Affairs greatest strength is in its contribution to the University vision. It is assessment evidence that lets us know we are on the correct path in our ongoing efforts to significantly contribute to student learning and the educational outcomes of our institution

Principle 9: Effective assessment allows us to demonstrate our accountability and responsibility to student, the institution, and the public.

Assessment is a means to an end. It gives us the information required to show what and how we are assisting with institutional effectiveness. By offering the best services and programs, we help students, the institution, and the public.

Principle 10: Effective assessment is transparent.

We provide evidence of an ongoing assessment process and that results are being used to inform our decision making. The assessment process is public and inclusive, which includes sharing results with our stakeholders and constituents.

Principle 11: Effective assessment includes feedback.

Systematic feedback allows the use of information to guide program development. What we learn about our programs and services through the assessment process is used to modify or eliminate what does not work. Feedback to participants and stakeholders communicates the value we place in the assessment process and the use of data for decision making. 

The first nine principles are derived from collaborative efforts through the American Association of Higher Education: Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning

Creating an Assessment Plan

We should design with the end in mind! What do you want to see occur as a result of your course? Your program? Changes in student learning? Changes to program content or delivery? Changes in participation? 

Assessment plans specify the steps taken to determine the effectiveness of course instruction and programs. Plans layout the steps to gather evidence of student learning and development and of program functioning.  In specifying assessment plans, we make transparent our vision, desires, and expected outcomes as indicators of success. Assessment is continuous and systematic. Planning allows us to use results to modify, change or eliminate services that do not meet our needs and our expected outcomes, and allows us to use our resources more effectively.

Create an assessment plan using the Five Step Program Assessment Model.

When creating or revising/refining your program assessment plan, consider the following five step program assessment model that outlines the five components of an assessment plan as recommended by the PSU Institutional Assessment Council to adhere to the requirements of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities on program assessment.

Once you have created an assessment plan, you can use the IAC Program Assessment Rubrics to assess its quality.

If you need assistance, please contact the Office of Academic Innovation to arrange one-on-one assessment consultation or contact Raiza Dottin at

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