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Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning FAQs About Program Assessment

What is program assessment?

Program assessment is a process undertaken by program faculty to determine whether students are meeting the degree program’s student learning outcomes. In learning outcomes assessment, the goal is to look beyond an individual course to examine what students are learning through the curriculum and their overall experience in the program. In the same way that faculty members individually engage in a cycle of teaching and learning in their own courses, so also faculty members as a group can engage in this process collectively to reflect on and review their curriculum as a whole. In addition, program assessment may examine other issues to support and enhance program effectiveness. More information is available at About Assessment.

Who is responsible for program assessment at WSU?

  • Chair/Director: Chairs are responsible for providing leadership and oversight for assessment of each degree program. Among other responsibilities, the chair/director should develop and resource a sustainable assessment plan; involve faculty and a committee structure appropriate to their department; use results in decision-making; and communicate with other campuses.  The chair/director also ensures infrastructure so assessment data and documents are regularly archived, with appropriate data stewardship and access to appropriate department members on all campuses. The chair/ director reports annually on assessment to ATL for undergraduate programs and to the Graduate School for graduate programs.
  • Faculty Assessment Coordinator: Each program has an assessment coordinator (typically a faculty member appointed by the chair/director) who implements the program’s assessment plan, coordinates assessment efforts with broad faculty participation, and prepares the annual assessment report.
  • Faculty: Faculty who teach participate in assessment activities, which may include collecting or scoring student work for program learning outcomes, norming on a rubric, interpreting assessment results, and participating in committee or faculty meetings about assessment.
  • Dean/Associate Dean: Provide overall leadership and oversight of program assessment in the college.
  • Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning (ATL): Consult and support undergraduate programs, colleges, and campuses to implement assessment of student learning.
  • Graduate School: Manage assessment reporting and review for graduate programs and provide information and data for program review. See Graduate Program Review and Assessment.

For more about assessment roles and responsibilities, see ATL’s Summary of Suggested Roles and Responsibilities and the Educational Policies and Procedures Manual section “Assessment of student learning”.

How can new chairs, school directors, and faculty assessment coordinators get up to speed on undergraduate program assessment requirements and expectations at WSU?

Chairs, directors, and assessment coordinators should contact the ATL assessment specialist assigned to programs in the appropriate college/area, who will be glad to provide a brief orientation (see ATL’s Workshops page for more information). Past year’s annual undergraduate assessment reports for each program should also be a helpful source of information. Reports are stored by the program and ATL also has a copy. For more information, see ATL website sections: About Assessment, Key Assessment Elements, and Program Assessment Reporting.

Where is program assessment information stored?

Each program and/or college is responsible for maintaining an archive for their annual assessment reports, plans, and other assessment materials. Programs are responsible for acting as data stewards for assessment data, results and documents. ATL keeps copies of annual assessment reports for all programs but generally does not store other assessment documents or programs’ assessment results. See ATL’s Assessment Archives & Data Stewardship Toolkit.

What resources are available at WSU to support undergraduate program assessment?

ATL consults and supports undergraduate programs, colleges, and campuses to implement assessment of student learning. ATL assessment specialists work directly with program faculty and college/school leadership to support program assessment. ATL provides consultations and various resources including workshops, toolkits, student focus groups, and mini-grants. ATL also helps programs develop or revise key assessment elementsplan assessment, design effective assignments for assessment, use assessment to inform decision making, design surveys, and analyze data. Most colleges also have assessment committees that provide support for program and college-level assessment efforts.

Are good practice samples or guidelines available for particular assessment activities? What are other WSU undergraduate programs doing?

See ATL’s Assessment Toolkits for guides, tips, and samples, as well as WSU Assessment Spotlights on what WSU programs are doing. ATL assessment specialists are also available to discuss a program’s assessment goals and help find resources and samples specific to each program’s needs.

Where do graduate programs go to get support for assessment?

For support or information about assessing graduate programs, see Graduate Program Review and Assessment.

What is the approach to program assessment at WSU, since programs and disciplines are so different?

ATL works with the Liaison Council for Undergraduate Assessment and WSU leadership to establish requirements and criteria for undergraduate degree assessment that are based on good practices but are also flexible enough to adapt to the needs of different disciplines. Program assessment does not require numerical ratings and assessment measures can be either quantitative or qualitative. To be effective, program assessment should reflect the discipline and context of the program and its students, so that assessment for Fine Arts or Philosophy might look different than assessment in Electrical Engineering, but both can provide useful information about student learning. ATL assessment specialists work directly with faculty to help make assessment useful to the particular needs of different programs.

What is the connection between assessment and accreditation?

Assessment of student learning and accreditation are often seen as closely linked—perhaps because assessment receives so much attention during accreditation reviews. Assessment is an ongoing process, though which departments and faculty gather information to support evidence-based decision-making about curriculum, instruction, and student experience. Using assessment results, faculty collaboratively develop, maintain and improve an effective curriculum that promotes student learning.

Accreditation involves a periodic review process from an external body (either academic or professional, or for the university as a whole) that, in part, determines whether systematic assessment processes are occurring with results contributing to decision-making. At WSU, program assessment activities are critical to meeting specific standards for university accreditation, see Annual Program Assessment Reporting.

For additional information, see FAQs about Accreditation and Assessment and Accreditation.

How are grades related to assessment?

Course grades give faculty information about how individual students are doing overall in a course in relation to course content, attendance, improvement and other issues. Grades can also serve as a dashboard to monitor patterns and changes in student success over time. However, course grades can differ from program assessment in several important ways, including:

  • A composite course grade does not differentiate achievement by learning outcome.
  • Faculty members teaching the same course may teach different material and use different grading criteria.
  • Factors such as participation and attendance contribute to grades but are not direct indicators of student achievement of learning outcomes.

Assignment grades can be used as program assessment under certain conditions. If an assignment’s learning outcomes are aligned with the program’s learning outcomes and the assignment product from a representative sample of students is evaluated using a rubric or other tool that differentiates by learning outcome, then these ratings can serve as program assessment evidence. Program assessment focuses on a group or cohort of students and how well their work meets the outcomes and benchmarks set by a collective group of faculty. Please contact ATL for assistance using assignment grades for program assessment.

What is the difference between assessment and research?

Research is a formalized process that gathers, analyzes and uses data to make generalizable or suggestive conclusions with broad implications. Because of its broad use, research seeks to control for as many variables as possible.

Assessment’s main purpose is to guide curriculum decisions and good teaching and learning practices in a local context. Like research, assessment involves asking questions, gathering evidence, and using the findings. Unlike formal research, assessment often includes many variables that cannot be controlled. Because of this, assessment is not generalizable but provides insights into student achievement within the department or program. Additionally, assessment projects may have time and resources limitations; and, despite flaws in design or implementation, data must be salvaged to inform decisions in an academic program. When presenting assessment results, good practices include clearly identifying limitations of the data, judging the value of results on a case-by-case basis, and involving faculty and administrators in discussion of the results—sometimes the greatest value of assessment is the discussion it yields.

For more information, see Assessment and Research.

Does program assessment require IRB approval?

Usually, no. Program assessment, like classroom assessment, is excluded from Institutional Review Board (IRB) review because it does not meet the definition of research. The Code of Federal Regulations found at 45 CFR 46.102(d) defines research in part as, “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” Assessment for use by instructors and programs for the purpose of improvement does not meet this definition.

Provided all personally identifiable information is removed and the results are used for internal university purposes, programs that collect student work for the purpose of program assessment do not need student consent. Note, however, if a person or program plans to disseminate or publish data beyond program improvement or accreditation purposes, then IRB review may be required. Please contact WSU’s IRB with questions.