Office of Academic Assessment

Why Do We Assess?

To find out what students are learning.

Are students learning what we are teaching, and how do we know?

To talk about what is important to learn.

When there is so much that could be highlighted, how do instructors and programs decide what is worthy of their limited time with students? The process of developing assessment plans, assessment tasks, and scoring rubrics provides an opportunity to discuss what is important to learn.

To improve, improve, improve.

Even when the evidence shows that students are doing well and achieving learning outcomes, we can always improve.

To demonstrate accountability.

Parents, governing boards, lawmakers and students themselves increasingly want evidence that students are gaining value from the experiences we provide.

How does it work?

Academic assessment takes place at multiple levels from the student, to the program, to the institution. Ideally, assessment of the individual student through a classroom assignment, project, or test can be "rolled up" and used at other levels to provide information about how a program and the institution are contributing to student learning.

It all starts with well-defined, clearly stated student learning outcomes.

Student learning outcomes (SLOs) are statements of what a student will know or be able to do when they have completed the learning experience. SLOs should be specific and measurable, and they should align across different levels. Check out Resources and Student Learning Outcomes for SLO examples and helpful information for developing SLOs.

Develop a plan.

  • Start with the SLOs that are most important to the program and identify ways to collect data on these. There are many different strategies for collecting data, so think about what will be useful and realistic. Over several years, use a variety of methods.
  • Remember to build in a systematic process for talking about your data.
  • Over several years, plan to assess all your program's SLOs. Identify when and where in a curriculum it makes sense to assess.
  • Don't forget to see what the institution has already done for you. Visit University-Wide Surveys for examples.

Just do it.

Once you have a reasonable--not a perfect--plan, implement it. You'll make some mistakes and you'll find things that could be done better, but that's okay. The important thing is to get the information, analyze it, and figure out what it tells you.

USE the information.

  • Talk about the data with anyone (everyone!) who might be interested.
  • Identify changes needed and additional information desired.
  • Implement changes.
  • Set additional assessment goal/s.
  • Repeat (and repeat...and repeat...). That's the thing about assessment--you're never done, so the fun just keeps on going!

What does the Office of Academic Assessment do?

  • We support assessment of student learning across campus by helping people:
  • Define learning outcomes and align with LEAP ELOs;
  • Design assessment plans;
  • Develop rubrics and assessment tools; and
  • Close the loop: Link data with action.
  • We disseminate and support campus recommendations for direction and focus of campus-level assessment.
  • We promote best practices in assessment through consultations, faculty development, workshops, serving on committees--any way we can.
  • We provide information, resources, feedback, suggestions, brainstorming about assessment data collection, interpretation, and use.
  • We help campus units meet accountability needs, including requirements of the Higher Learning Commission, the University of Wisconsin System, and college and program accreditaion.
  • We collaborate with the LEARN Center to help make information on assessment best practices, tools, and strategies available to people across campus.
  • We collaborate with the Office of Institutional Research & Planning to help make data more accessible, easier to understand, and easier to use.

Click Why Do We Assess? for the full document [PDF].


Office of Academic Assessment
450 Heide Hall
800 West Main Street
Whitewater, WI 53190
Phone: 262-472-1806