Introduction to Assessment

Why Assess Student Learning and the SOAP
Programmatic Purposes
Assessment Activity Planning
Implementing the Program SOAP: Closing the Loop


I. Program Objectives

Program aims should be expressed in clearly written statements that convey the overall mission, goals, and outcomes in which students will achieve proficiency. The mission statement, goals, outcomes and curriculum map are important elements of the SOAP that should be aligned and that can facilitate the development and assessment of key student learning outcomes.

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.

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. Goals can be stated in broader and more aspirational language than student learning outcomes that have to be specific and measurable.

C. Student Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes 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, student learning outcomes 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.

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 hold a brainstorming session in which faculty members write student learning outcomes that are then organized into groups from which program goals are formulated. Some programs have a few common student learning outcomes and the two or three specific and different learning outcomes for each option within the program.

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 ooutcomes introduced in a course as an “I,” reinforced in a course as an “R,” emphasized as an “E”  and Mastered as an "M." As a result of developing a curriculum map, some programs find that outcomes 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.

Next: Assessment Activity Planning