Assessment Glossary

The definition of terms provided below are intended to describe assessment-related terms as they are generally and broadly understood across institutions. In some cases, terms are operationalized as they are used in the context of UA Little Rock. These definitions are identified as “operationalized terms.”

Accreditation:  The process and action of officially recognizing a program or institution as meeting a set of professional standards and expectations. Regional accrediting bodies accredit institutions of higher education on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to ensure the quality of the education provided. Some disciplines have accrediting organizations that verify that certain programs meet the standards of that discipline’s professional organization. Accreditors typically review a broad set of quality indicators including student learning outcomes, faculty credentials, institutional integrity, integrated planning, and general viability.

Artifact: the learning activity that serves as the direct evidence from which student learning is measured. Artifacts should be stored.

Assessment:  The process of gathering and analyzing data to determine if a program or activity is meeting its objectives.

Assessment Academy: See “HLC Assessment Academy.”

Benchmark: a performance standard against which assessment results are compared in order to determine whether or not a program’s ideas of “successful” student learning were achieved. The HLC Assessment Academy uses the term “threshold” instead of “benchmark.”

Component: The HLC Assessment Academy uses this term as a subset of “student learning outcomes (SLOs)” to define how programs will achieve its SLOs. The operational term at UA Little Rock for “component” is “learning objective.”

Continuous Improvement:  Using the assessment process to identify strategies for improvement on a regular and continuous schedule.

Co-Curricular Learning:  Student learning that occurs in activities and programs that are in addition to the regular curriculum and that complement, in some way, what students are learning in the regular curriculum. Typically, co-curricular learning experiences are not credit-bearing, but may be attached to credit-bearing curriculum. Note that co-curricular learning is distinct from extracurricular learning where the learning outcomes are generally not tied to any particular curricular program.

Core Curriculum (operationalized term):  At UA Little Rock, the core curriculum is defined as the general education courses (or course options within curricular areas) that all students are required to take and which satisfy the general education portion of graduation requirements at UA Little Rock.

Direct Assessment:  Assessment measures that provide evidence of student learning by demonstrating the learning itself (direct evidence). These are usually based on student-produced artifacts embedded in the context of the course or program being assessed, but may also include externally administered standardized exams or performance evaluations. Compare with indirect assessment.

Formative Assessment: Assessment measures that are designed to provide insight into ways to improve outcomes. These are usually low-stakes forms of feedback intended to foster improvement and development. Compare with summative assessment.

Higher Learning Commission (HLC): UA Little Rock’s regional accrediting body, which acts as a proxy for the federal government to ensure institutional compliance with federal law and continuous improvement. Criteria 3 and 4 of the five HLC Criteria for Accreditation—as well as various Assumed Practices—specifically address the assessment of student learning outcomes.

HLC Assessment Academy: one of two “academies” that the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) provides to member institutions to help them address perceived issues of accreditation on their campuses. Institutions must apply to participate in the academy and commit to sponsoring a team of faculty and staff to attend Round Table events over the course of four years. Teams develop a project and submit regular reports, benefitting from feedback from a mentor and scholar, as well as peer members of the Assessment Academy.

Indirect Assessment:  Assessment measures that are based on perceptions, reflections, or secondary evidence and are used to make inferences about student learning. These measures do not demonstrate the learning itself, but may provide insight to related outcomes. Examples include student surveys, job placements, and employer surveys. Compare with direct assessment.

Input: Resources put in place before a learning process begins that might affect learning outcomes (e.g., laboratories, libraries, well-credentialed faculty, “smart” classrooms). Traditional assessment practices often accounted for educational inputs as indicators of institutional success rather than direct evidence of student learning outcomes.

Institutional Effectiveness:  The degree to which an institution accomplishes its stated mission and goals, meets the needs of its stakeholders, demonstrates sustainability through effective planning and stewardship, and serves the public good.

Learning Activity: See “Artifact”

Learning Goals (operationalized term):  The UA Little Rock Faculty Senate and Core Council use this term to refer to the broad purposes of the core curriculum. It is the highest level of description for core learning areas and it subsumes learning outcomes and learning objectives. The operationalized term “learning goals” is understood at UA Little Rock to mean the same as the HLC Assessment Academy’s “student learning outcomes” or “SLOs.”

Learning Objectives (operationalized term):  The UA Little Rock Faculty Senate and Core Council use this term to refer to how each course in the core curriculum will achieve the learning goals identified for the course. Learning objectives are course specific and vary across courses within a curricular area. The operationalized term “learning objectives” is understood at UA Little Rock to mean the same as HLC’s “SLO components.”

Learning Outcomes (operationalized term):  The UA Little Rock Faculty Senate and Core Council use this term to refer to expected results that each curricular area will achieve and refers directly to what students learn by the end of the course. The HLC Assessment Academy uses the term “student learning outcomes (SLOs)” as a generalized term as the highest level of description of learning goals, objectives or outcomes in assessment planning and reporting, primarily at the program level.

Program Assessment:  Assessment to determine the extent to which students in an academic or co-curricular program can demonstrate the learning outcomes for the program.

Program Mission:  Broad statement of what the degree or co-curricular program provides to its stakeholders and the expected outcomes for students participating in the program.

Program Review (operationalized term):  In the State of Arkansas, program review refers to a periodic comprehensive review of degree programs that are not independently accredited by a disciplinary accrediting body. Program reviews take the place of disciplinary accreditation reviews for disciplines that do not have accrediting bodies. Program reviews occur every seven to ten years and must follow guidelines set by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

Program Standards:  The knowledge, skills, and values that students are expected to attain in a given program. Levels of attainment may be specified for purposes of evaluation and assessment.

Rubric:  A set of criteria specifying the characteristics of a learning outcome and the levels of achievement in each characteristic (University of Pittsburgh, 2009).

Skills in the Major (SKIM):  UA Little Rock has adopted a set of six skill requirements that are expected to be integrated into the bachelor degree upper level requirements for academic programs that are not accredited by a disciplinary accrediting agency. The six skills are: oral communication, written communication, research methods, ethics, critical thinking, and technology.

Summative Assessment:  Assessment measures that are designed to evaluate outcomes at the end of a defined period by comparing it against a defined set of standards or benchmarks. Summative assessments may be used to evaluate student performance at the end of a term or at the conclusion of a program of study. They may also be used to provide accountability measures to stakeholders.

Threshold: See “benchmark.”