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Guide to Student Outcomes Assessment

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


II. Assessment Activity Planning

All programs have a Student Outcomes Assessment Plan (SOAP), AND the mission, goals and outomes for the program are considered living documents to be revised in response to assessment results and changing circumstances. Planning for assessment activities then is an on-going activity that entails routine maintenance. Some accrediting bodies require more activity on an annual basis, but the minimum requirement for campus departments/programs is to complete at least one assessment activity each academic year, with follow-up indicating the findings of the activity and any changes that are made as a result. All program SOAPs should be revised periodically and you should e-mail the revised version to Dr. Douglas Fraleigh (

For Department and Program Coordinators, the College Assessment Coordinators and Director of Assessment have prepared an Assessment Guide.  This guide provides an introduction to assessment at Fresno State and orients new Department and Program Coordinators to their role.  It includes a to-do list for coordinators and worksheets for coordinators. 

A. Establishing Priorities

Since the purpose of outcomes assessment at California State University, Fresno is improving student learning, the first step in developing and updating a program’s SOAP is to decide upon the questions to which answers are most needed. It may not be possible to determine in timely fashion the extent to which students achieve all of the learning objectives the program has identified. In this case, priorities need to be established and scheduled across the next 5 – 7 years, the period over which routine academic program review is conducted.

B. Selecting Assessment Techniques

With program priorities established, the next step in developing and updating the program’s SOAP is to identify both the student learning outcomes to be assessed and the measures (assignments) to be used that are genuinely able to give you the information you seek about your students’ learning. Data may already be available to the program that document student performance, such as senior projects and culminating experiences, internship evaluations, job placements and even recruitment patterns and retention rates. Programs should employ a variety of assessment techniques. A link to a table of assessment techniques is provided as an example.

At a minimum, academic program faculty should plan, conduct, report, and reflect the results of at least one assessment activity in every academic program in every year. Across the 5 – 7 year period over which routine academic program review is conducted, the program needs to assess every student learning outcomes at least once. Student learning outcomes that focus on skills, such as critical thinking, written communication, etc,. should be assessed primarily by using direct outcomes but both direct and indirect measures may be used for the assessment of program student learning outcomes.

  1. Direct Student Assessment Techniques *
    In contrast to opinion surveys and instruments that gather self-reports and/or third-party reports of student knowledge, direct measures of student learning are generated when students are evaluated in their performance of a stated objective. To obtain a direct measure of student learning, systematically gather data across student performances using scores on standardized or locally prepared examinations or activities, or scoring rubrics for performances, projects, theses, etc. If you choose to base your assessment in part on culminating experiences or portfolios, be explicit in explaining how the products of these activities will be analyzed.
  2. Indirect Student Assessment Techniques *
    Usually founded in survey activities, indirect learning assessment techniques gather measures from students about their self-reported progress of learning, what experiences students attribute their learning to, how students feel about what they know, and what students value as a result of their educational experiences. In addition, third-party reports of what students know and can do may represent an indirect assessment technique if the reports gathered are generalized assessments of student performances. Use of alumni surveys and employer surveys are encouraged as valuable indirect assessment techniques.
  3. Program Assessment Techniques
    Program assessment techniques can extend beyond assessment of specific student learning objectives. Program assessment techniques are valuable sources of information and may include retention rates, community interactions, student ethnicity, student research activities, and other program activities.

C. Augmenting the Curriculum Map

A course-by-objective curriculum map should make clear where in the program students are introduced to (I), developed (D), and mastered (M) stated learning outcomes. Additional columns can be added to the matrix to designate additional information if the department wants to undertake more detailed planning of assessment activities tied to the curriculum.

  1. Course-Embedded Assessment Activities *
    Use of an assignment, examination, or project in a particular course can be an effective means by which to gather evidence of student learning. Not only does it save student and faculty time by making an activity serve multiple ends, arguably the greatest benefit of embedding assessment activities in courses is the motivation it provides students to give the activity a high priority in order to achieve a course grade. In addition, use of a common assignment, examination or project applied across multiple sections of the same course can unify otherwise disparate sections of the course by measuring common learning outcomes in the same way. Powerful results can be generated if student work is evaluated in a common way and accrued across multiple sections of the course in the same term or across multiple terms in which the course is offered.
  2. Programmatic Progress Checks
    Progress toward achieving stated learning outcomes and program goals can be evaluated at a specific level of student development within the program. Rather than embedded within specific courses, student outcomes assessment activities can be planned at key transitions within a program, such as junior rising tests, when students are given a performance assessment as they enter their junior year, or senior culminating experiences*, when students are given a performance assessment as they conclude their educational experiences in their academic program. Caution should be used when planning student outcomes assessment activities outside any particular course, however, to carefully articulate consequences to student participants that guarantee a high level of student motivation to perform well on the planned activity.
  3. Activities Timelines
    For each of the next 5 – 7 years, create a separate timeline to indicate what assessment activities are to be conducted in each year and who has major responsibility for conducting each. Each activity should also reference what learning outcome is involved and what assessment measure is planned. These activities will reflect the priorities established by your program. Once your timeline is established, cross-reference your planned activities back to augment your curriculum map, noting for each prioritized learning outcomes what activity is slated and what semester it is scheduled to be done.

Next: Implementing the Program SOAP: Closing the Loop