Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes

Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes

Pen on top of marked paper.Teaching requires assessment, i.e., the evaluation of student understanding in light of the goals of a lesson or a course. This is a broad definition, and indeed, there are many forms of assessment, and all of them involve student work. That work can be graded or ungraded. It can take a few minutes (as with the one-minute paper) or it can take weeks (as with the group project). It can ask students to demonstrate understanding or skills acquisition through writing, the creation of a product or presentation, or the ability to successfully accomplish some task. It can ask students to demonstrate their understanding as individuals or as members of a group.

Student learning outcomes articulate what a student should know or can do after completing a course or program. The assessment of student learning outcomes provides information that puts student learning at the forefront of academic planning processes. At the University of Maryland, the Provost’s Commission on Learning Outcomes Assessment provides the leadership and organizational procedures for our engagement in such assessment.

No matter their form, assessments should reflect—and be determined by—the learning goals of a lesson or a course. But linking goals to assessment can be tricky. If your goal is for students to understand a concept, do you mean that they should be able to recall facts? Summarize information? Apply information or predict consequences? Analyze or compare phenomena? Generate models? Evaluate and justify arguments? Perhaps you want your students to be able to demonstrate their understanding by doing a combination of these things. You should ask yourself whether or not your assessments are related to the goals of the lesson or the course, e.g., are the assessments measuring whether students have met the learning goals?

You might think of assessment as a multi-step process in which you:

  1. Formulate a clear and succinct learning goal (or goals) for your students.
  2. Articulate those learning goals to your students.
  3. Decide what your students should be able to do if they have met those learning goals.
  4. Develop an assessment instrument (a test, essay, project, etc.) and a scoring rubric.
  5. Administer the assessment instrument to your students.
  6. Evaluate your students’ performance on the assessment instrument.
  7. Assess your students’ mastery of the learning goals given their performance on the assessment instrument.
  8. Reflect on why students did or did not master the learning goals, and develop strategies to help them be as or more successful in the future.

Assessments can be powerful contexts for student learning. They can:

  • understanding of a topic
  • that think about their own learning
  • know or have learned in your class or in previous courses

Campus Student Learning Outcomes

The Provost’s Commission on Learning Outcomes Assessment produced “learning goals that span multiple common expectations for all UM undergraduates, including critical thinking and research skills, written and oral communication, science and quantitative reasoning, information literacy, and technological fluency.” They are available at

The Provost’s Commission researched and formulated the following University-wide learning goals for UM students, which correspond to the essential elements of an undergraduate education as stated by Middle States Standard 12. These goals articulate the educational outcomes to which we as a University aspire for our graduates. The goals for these elements are not exhaustive, and not every student will necessarily master each goal. Finally, these goals must be understood as articulating with the goals and objectives of our General Education program and those of academic disciplines.

Critical Reasoning and Research Skills

Goal: University of Maryland undergraduates should learn and develop critical reasoning ( and research skills that they can apply successfully within a wide range and intersection of disciplines inside and outside of academia.

Written and Oral Communication

Goal: Using standard English, University of Maryland undergraduates will communicate clearly and effectively in writing and orally for different audiences and purposes.

Science and Quantitative Reasoning

Goal: University of Maryland undergraduates should understand and be able to apply basic scientific and mathematical reasoning to their research efforts and critical analyses.

Information Literacy Skills

Goal: University of Maryland undergraduates will learn and develop information literacy skills that they can successfully apply within a wide range and intersection of disciplines inside and outside academia.

Technology Fluency

Goal: University of Maryland undergraduates will be able to understand basic technologies and how these relate to their specific disciplines, and will be able to apply these technologies to their research and academic efforts.

See for a detailed description of each learning goal.