Appendix M

Guidelines for Academic Assessment Plans

(formerly Appendix U)

In accordance with the expectations of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education,[1]  the Provost asks departments to make explicit their plans to assess student learning. The major aims of an explicit assessment plan are to specify the expectations for student learning, regularly examine meaningful evidence to evaluate student achievement and progress, and using this evidence to develop and implement a plan to improve opportunities for student learning. 

An assessment plan reflects an ongoing process of reflection and reassessment of the programs’ objectives and opportunities for student learning. In 2009-2010, departments were encouraged to assess student learning by examining students’ senior capstone projects. The senior seminar or capstone experience was suggested as the year one assessment activity because it had an existing final project that provided direct evidence of integrative, higher-order student learning.  Going forward, department faculty are urged to assess courses or activities of importance to the program’s learning outcomes.  All academic departments are asked to meet once per year to review and discuss the results of their annual assessment of student learning in light of the department’s goals and the programs student learning outcomes.

The Office of the Provost can assist department chairs and program directors with this process by offering workshops, resources, and whenever possible, administrative support. The Provost’s website contains exemplars and resources to assist with the development of each component of an assessment plan.  Please contact Hilary Link, Vice Provost, via email ( or by phone (4-7517) for assistance.

Essential Components of an Academic Department Assessment Plan

A complete assessment plan includes all of the following components:

  • A departmental mission statement—a statement that identifies the purpose and aims of the academic program/department;
  • A statement of key student learning outcomes—a description of the knowledge, skills, competencies, and attitudes that students should be able to demonstrate upon graduating from a program or institution;
  •  A list identifying the program courses and activities that provide students learning opportunities to achieve each expected student learning outcome (also known as a curriculum map);
  • A statement specifying the student learning outcome(s) that will be assessed for the year, and a plan for gathering evidence to assess the outcome;
  • An annual report summarizing the department’s conclusions and actions resulting from the data gathered from the annual assessment.

All academic departments must have an assessment plan on file with the Office of the Provost. The Plan must include a mission statement, key student learning outcomes for majors and/or minors, and a list detailing the program courses and activities that teach students the skills or knowledge necessary to achieve each student learning outcomes.  Before the Committee on Instruction reviews proposed new majors or minors, a Plan must be completed.

Departmental student learning goals are not an essential component of a department’s assessment plan and are optional. The Office of the Provost maintains a webpage with guidance and examples for each of the essential components of an academic department’s assessment plan.

Responsibilities of Chairs and Faculty

Chairs and directors are charged with coordinating faculty to develop and implement an assessment plan. Chairs and directors submit to the Office of the Provost the department’s/program’s assessment plan and annual assessment report, and schedule and coordinate an annual departmental meeting on assessment. Faculty members are expected to be full participants in the development, discussion, and review of the department’s/program’s assessment plans and data. Interdisciplinary program directors should work with relevant department chairs and/or faculty to plan for access to course assignments that can provide direct measures of the interdisciplinary program’s student learning outcomes.

Outline for Year-End Assessment Meetings and Annual Assessment Report

Annually, department chairs are expected to convene the faculty to discuss the results of the annual assessment activity, and how the program may better achieve its mission and prepare students to accomplish the expected learning outcomes. The following is a list of the required discussion items for the annual assessment meeting:

  • Review the results of the data collected to assess the key outcome(s);
  • Conclude what the assessment data suggests about the students’ achievements of the expected learning outcomes and the activities or course(s) that should have provided students focused opportunities to learn the expected skills or knowledge;
  • Arrive at consensus about the programs’ strengths, weaknesses, and indicated curricular improvements;
  • Revise or affirm the learning outcomes, mission, and curriculum as indicated by the assessment data;
  • Plan assessment activity for the following year.

In the Annual Assessment Report, due at the end of the academic year, department chairs summarize the discussion items from this meeting. Chairs may elect to complete the Annual Assessment Report Template rather than prepare a narrative of the meeting’s major discussion items.

Small Academic Programs

Academic programs that graduate fewer than three (3) majors per year and have requirements comprised only of courses from other programs are exempt from parts of this policy. These programs are not expected to have a curriculum map, annual assessment activities, annual assessment meetings, or submit annual assessment reports. They are required to have a mission statement and key student learning outcomes. Directors of these partially exempted programs should participate in the assessment activities and meetings of disciplinary programs that house their core courses. Similar to all academic programs and departments, these programs will continue to be evaluated through academic program reviews.

[1] The Middle States Commission on Higher Education refined its standards for accreditation to place greater emphasis on the assessment of student learning. These revised standards for MSCHE accreditation are as follows: (Standard 7) Institutional Assessment --The institution has developed and implemented an assessment process that evaluates its overall effectiveness in achieving its mission and goals and its compliance with accreditation standards; (Standard 14) Assessment  of Student Learning—Assessment of student learning demonstrates that, at graduation, or other appropriate points, the institution’s students have knowledge, skills, and competencies consistent with institutional and appropriate higher education goals. The revised standards and increased demands for assessment are part of the broader societal trend of increasing the accountability demands for educational institutions.  The College’s voluntary participation in the “accrediting process is intended to strengthen and sustain the quality and integrity of higher education, making it worthy of public confidence and minimizing the scope of external control” (MSCHE 2009: iv).

Revised July 2011