Guide to Outcomes Assessment

Programmatic Purposes
Assessment Activity Planning
Implementing the Program SOAP: Closing the Loop


I. Programmatic Purposes

Programmatic purposes should be expressed in clearly written statements that convey the overall mission, goals, and objectives the program intends to deliver. Connecting these to the underlying curriculum is a valuable exercise, which will be captured in the curriculum map described below. Programmatic purposes are addressed below.

A. Mission Statement

A program mission statement should state the values and philosophy of the program. It should be sufficiently expansive to provide rationale to the underlying curricula and establish the broad directions and aspirations of the program and any particular degree options or concentrations within it. It should align with the school/college and University mission statements. Where degree options or concentrations exist to allow students greater focus in one area of the program, specific language should further define the mission of each major concentration or degree level offered, reflecting the actual educational and career paths of the program’s graduates. The mission statement should be understandable to new students interested in the area, professionals operating within the field, as well as persons outside the field. The program description in the General Catalog should reflect the mission of the program and its concentrations. A link to a program mission statement is provided as an example.

B. Goals

The goals should state the broad, long-range outcomes that support the program’s mission, including content knowledge areas, performance expectations, and values expected of program graduates.

A division of goals into three domains is a good starting point:

  • Cognitive: * What do graduates know?
  • Performance/Skill: * What can graduates do?
  • Affective: * What do graduates value?

Links to definitions and illustrative verbs are captured behind the asterisks above ( *). A link to a goal statement is provided as an example.

C. Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are brief, clear statements of learning outcomes of instruction that are related to and flow from the program goals. While goals express intended outcomes in broad, global language, learning objectives use precise terms that focus on the students, rather than the curriculum. Learning objectives should be written using active verbs, such as: identify, explain, translate, construct, solve, illustrate, analyze, compose, compile, design. Specific use of verbs such as to know or understand should be avoided, since they are too vague to provide needed clarity.

Our local glossary of assessment terms includes domains of student learning objectives, definitions, and illustrative verbs to assist in forming and/or revising student learning objectives.

Accrediting bodies, professional organizations, or disciplinary groups may already have drafted learning outcomes in your discipline that can be adapted to reflect your program mission and goals. Some programs find it useful to form a “collective resume” as a tool for developing statements of goals and objectives. A collective resume, written as if to potential employers, describes the abilities of a typical graduate from the program. Some programs find it useful to hold a brainstorming session in which faculty members write learning objectives that are then organized into groups from which program goals are formulated. A link to a set of learning objectives is provided as an example.

D. Curriculum Map *

Tying program goals and learning objectives to the curriculum can allow for an integrated evaluation of what students in the program should know and when they should know it. A course-by-objective matrix can make clear those courses in which students are introduced to learning objectives and those in which those objectives are reinforced and finally polished. Curriculum maps typically designate objectives introduced in a course as an “I,” reinforced in a course as an “R,” and polished to advanced understanding as an “A.” As a result of developing a curriculum map, some programs find that objectives central to the field were not adequately addressed in the curriculum, leading to important revisions in the curriculum. Once a curriculum map is developed, proceeding to planning assessment activities may be clarified. A link to a curriculum map is provided as an example.

Next: Assessment Activity Planning