What is Assessment?

Assessment is the ongoing process of:

  • Establishing clear, measurable expected outcomes of student learning
  • Ensuring that students have sufficient opportunities to achieve those outcomes
  • Systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well student learning matches our expectations
  • Using the resulting information to understand and improve student learning

Teaching, Learning and Assessment Cycle

(Suskie, pg. 4)

What is the difference between Assessment and Grading?

Grades focus on individual students, while assessment focuses on entire cohorts of students and how effectively everyone, not just one individual faculty member, is helping them learn. Grades alone are usually insufficient evidence of student learning for several reasons:

  1. Grades alone do not usually provide meaningful information on exactly what students have and have not learned. A “B” in a math course, for example, does not tell us which math concepts have or have not been mastered
  2. Grading and assessment criteria may be different. Grades may be based, in part, on attendance and class participation. These have nothing to do with the actual skills or concepts that students have or have not mastered.
  3. Grading standards may be vague or inconsistent. Faculty teaching sections of the same course may not agree on common standards and could award different grades to the same student performance on the same assignments.
  4. Grades do not reflect all learning experiences. They do not provide information on how well students have learned key competencies, such as critical thinking or writing skills, holistically across an entire program. They also do not address what students have learned from ungraded cocurricular activities.

(Suskie, pg. 10)

How does assessment connect to program review and planning?

For more information on the Leeward’s Assessment and Program Review Cycle:

What are the differences between Course and Program Assessment?

Assessment in individual courses is typically based on the tests and assignments that contribute to the grading process. Assessment at the course level means not just assigning individual grades but also reflecting of how well students as a whole are achieving the course’s key learning goals. Course assessment becomes more complicated is several faculty members are teaching multiple sections of the same course and using different tests, assignments, and other grading criteria.

(Suskie, pg. 6)

Assessment of program learning outcomes is a systematic process in which program faculty and/or professionals articulate the intended results of the cumulative contribution of their program and what the program intends to accomplish. They purposefully plan the program so that the intended results (outcomes) can be achieved; implement methods to systematically – over time – identify whether the end results have been achieved; and, finally, use the results to plan improvements or make recommendations for policy consideration, recruitment, retention, resource reallocation or new resource requests.

Assessment of program learning outcomes can take place in a variety of ways: embedded assessments, capstone experiences, internships and practicums, portfolios.

(Bresciani, pg. 14)


Suskie, Linda. Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide; San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

Bresciani, Marilee. Outcomes-Based Academic and Co-Curricular Program Review; Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2006.