Assessment is a component of a systematic, ongoing process that involves collecting and discussing information from multiple sources to understand what we do, to determine if we are doing it effectively, and to identify opportunities for improvement. In higher education, we typically use the term assessment to refer to the evaluation of student learning and development, educational programs, and the environments that support student learning and development. University offices, departments, and programs that support the operations of the institution often prefer the term evaluation.

While educational programs and non-instructional units collect different data using different methods, the approach is the same:

  • cyclical, regular, and intentional gathering of information;
  • analysis or comparison of the information with expectations;
  • use of the analysis to develop actions to refine programs, practices, or services;
  • implementation of actions; and
  • subsequent collection of information to determine the effectiveness of the actions.


…analyzing data – reflecting and collaborating with colleagues…


…analyzing data – reflecting and collaborating with colleagues…


…analyzing data – reflecting and collaborating with colleagues…


…analyzing data – reflecting and collaborating with colleagues…

Plan: Have a Clear Road Map

Creating an assessment plan.

Creating a plan for assessment that includes the following takes careful, strategic thought and collaboration.

  • who is responsible for coordinating the process, collecting the data, and analysis of the data;
  • observable, meaningful, measurable, and manageable outcomes;
  • how achievement of outcomes is to be measured, including the tools to be used for measurement, what is to be measured, how it is to be measured;
  • expectations of achievement;
  • descriptions of processes, if appropriate, for ensuring the trustworthiness of the information; and
  • a timeline for measurement, collection of data, and analysis of data.

The cycle of assessment is complete when those results are analyzed and used to improve programs and/or services.

Use the following guidelines for help in developing a robust assessment plan:

1. Define the mission.

A first step in an assessment plan is the development of a clear, concise, distinctive mission statement.  A mission statement is a brief, broad statement of the directions, values and aspirations of the unit and should provide a clear description of its purpose. The mission should align with the University’s mission.

2. Define goals and/or objectives (optional).

Goals and objectives are similar in that they are the broader intentions of what we want to do to achieve the unit’s mission. Goals and objective statements are very general and not necessarily measurable. Defining goals and/or objectives is not required for assessment plans at UA, but if either (or both) is defined, it serves to form a bridge between the mission statement and the more specific outcomes.

3. Define outcomes.

The 3 M’s: Outcomes must be meaningful, measurable, and manageable.

For academic programs, outcomes reflect what students are expected to learn or to do as a result of successful completion of a degree program, course of study, or co-curricular experience. This type of outcome is called a student learning outcome (SLO). SLOs of a degree program describe the intended educational outcomes in terms of specific student abilities, knowledge, values and attitudes students will achieve by the time they graduate from the program.

For non-instructional units, operational outcomes focus on the unit’s processes and services and/or the enhancement of the student learning environment, rather than on student learning.

Click the following links for more information on writing mission statements or reviewing your existing mission statement:

Click the following links for more information on writing or revising goals, objectives, or outcomes; and for advice on creating curriculum maps:

Step 4: Inventory measures and identify expectations of achievement.

Identify, list and describe available information and existing processes that provide information that can be used to measure achievement or quality of outcomes. Define the level of achievement you expect as a result of actions to be implemented. Consider the most reliable sources for trustworthy and detailed information about achievement. Use more than one source when possible.

Step 5: Collect the data.

The execution of tools to measure the impact of what we do may occur all at once or at intervals. The schedule for data collection should be written into the assessment plan. To the greatest extent possible, use authentic and readily available tools to collect data. Once collected, distribute the information to the appropriate faculty and staff for review and analysis. Some types of data are collected by The University of Alabama’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) and are available to departments or programs to use in their assessment activities. Click here to request information from OIRA.

Click the following links for more information on types of measures.

Click the following links for more information on collecting data.

Study: Reflect and Collaborate

Step 6: Analyze the results.

All unit personnel should receive assessment results and be a part of the detailed examination and interpretation of the data. The comparison of results to expectations and careful study or analysis of the data lead to identification of strengths of our efforts as well as opportunities to improve or increase efforts. These discussions also lead to suggestions for changes that personnel identify and approve in an action plan. An action plan includes strategies for improvement, when they are to be implemented, and who is responsible for implementing them.

Click the following links for more information on analyzing data.

Act: Using Results for Improvement

Step 7: Implement changes.

At this point in the continuous improvement cycle, implement the planned changes. In some cases, the changes are easy to implement, while other changes will have to be implemented over a period of time or through a series of steps.

Step 8: Monitor the changes and compare the results.

Monitor changes and measure again to determine if changes had the desired effect. Use the same tools used previously in your assessment cycle. Compare the actual results with the expected results. Carefully study discrepancies to determine any underlying causes, weaknesses in the action plan, and opportunities for further improvements.

Step 9: Review information.

Periodically review all of the information obtained from the assessment process. Use the information to inform other processes, i.e. academic program review, strategic planning, specialized accreditation, budgeting, new program development, and master planning. Revise assessment plans as needed to identify opportunities and strategies for continuous improvement.

Click the following links for more information on using results for improvements.