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Assessment Basics

The mission, goals and student learning outcomes (MGOs) are the foundation of a department or program’s Assessment Reports and Plans and Action Plan.


A general statement describing the overall purpose and function of the department or program. It should include the educational philosophy, values, and/or guiding principles of the department or program. Every mission should be aligned with the College mission and General Education Goals. The mission should be quite concrete and not change except in the event of fundamental changes to the department or program.

Goals and Student Learning Outcomes

Provide multiple primary goals, and as many supporting student learning outcomes as needed under each goal. Goals should reflect the general knowledge, skills, and attitudes that students will develop during, and possess after, the time they are taking the program’s courses. SLOs should clearly state what students will do or produce to demonstrate their learning within a specific time frame, such as a semester, an academic year, or by the time they complete the program. Keep in mind that both the achievement of goals and the demonstration of outcomes can occur either inside or outside the classroom.

Goals are more specific than the mission, but still general enough that the department or program can use them for multiple years. They should all connect directly to the department or program’s mission statement. SLOs are very specific and should connect directly to a goal. They can be changed more frequently than goals, if necessary and if evidence shows that a shift would be beneficial.

Learning outcomes typically use the following formula: 

Students Will . . . + Action + Resulting Evidence

Actions should be associated with the appropriate learning level or cognitive domain (i.e., Bloom’s Taxonomy, or recent extensions of his theory). Basic knowledge acquisition outcomes, for instance, might use actions like “find,” “describe,” or “list”; comprehension outcomes can use “explain,” “distinguish,” or “compare”; application outcomes can use “illustrate,” “solve,” or “use”; and so on.

Resulting Evidence can refer either to products that demonstrate achievement (papers, test scores, presentations, performances, portfolios, works of art, musical compositions, lab results, etc.), or to knowledge and skills that support these efforts (writing effective arguments, collecting and analyzing data, reading a foreign language, etc.).

For clarity, goals and outcomes should be presented accordingly:

  • Goal 1:
    • Outcome 1.1
    • Outcome 1.2
    • Etc.
  • Goal 2:
    • Outcome 2.1
    • Outcome 2.2
    • Etc.

Curriculum Maps

The Curriculum Map is a matrix that represents how courses are aligned with goals and learning outcomes. It is understood that student achievement of goals and outcomes is essentially fluid, and not limited to specific courses or specific moments within the curriculum.

When goals and outcomes are implemented systematically, however, they can be mapped according to the courses in which they are most explicitly emphasized.

The simplest way to represent this complex relationship is to create a table showing which courses highlight which outcomes. The variables within the table will show the extent to which the outcome is expected to be achieved. Each department/program can design a table that they determine most useful for this purpose.

In the example table below, gradations of the same shade have been used to designate 3 levels of achievement: introductory, developing, and mastery. The example table shows that outcomes 1.1, 2.1 and 3.1 are introduced in ASC 101 (an imaginary course, like those that follow). More outcomes are introduced in ASC 105, and outcomes 1.1 and 3.1 are further developed. The same outcomes continue to be developed in ASC 210, along with 1.3, and new outcomes are introduced as well. In ASC 340 outcome 3.1 continues to be developed, while mastery is now expected in outcomes 1.1 and 1.3.

Example: Curriculum Map stating course-goal/outcome alignment
I=Introductory, D=Developing, M=Mastery
Courses G/o 1.1 G/o 1.2 G/o 1.3 G/o 2.1 G/o 2.2 G/o 3.1 G/o 3.2
ASC 101 I I I
ASC 105 D I I I D I
ASC 210 D I D I M I
ASC 340 M M M

While a curriculum map is not a required part of Department/Program reporting and planning documents, it is an extremely helpful tool, and the Academic Assessment Committee encourages all departments and programs to use one. The Assessment Coordinator and the Associate Dean of the College can provide assistance and support as departments and programs develop curriculum maps.

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