UWAC Language Glossary

Prepared by the University-Wide Assessment Committee, Salem State University
April 2012

Part 1: Definitions of Common Assessment Words and Phrases

Alignment is the agreement between an outcome and an assessment used to evaluate the degree to which students demonstrate behaviors associated with that outcome.

  • Horizontal alignment connects an assessment with a corresponding outcome in a particular course.
  • Vertical alignment connects an assessment with a corresponding outcome at the departmental or institutional level, sometimes by year of study, sometimes by degree earned.

Assessment: Assessment of student learning is the systematic collection of demonstrations of  students’ ability to meet clearly stated  learning outcomes in order to inform actions specifically designed to improve student learning. Assessment can happen at the course or program level

  • Formative Assessment: Formative assessment aids learning by generating feedback in class or from assignments that enables students to adjust their study habits as a result of the feedback AND enables faculty to adjust the delivery of material as a result of the feedback DURING the term of study.
  • Normative assessment: Normative assessment compares samples of work from a common assignment offered during a specific time frame to establish criteria to ensure consistent evaluation of work. Normative assessment is most commonly used across sections to aid in the consistency of grading throughout a multiple section course, but it can be used with a specific section if appropriate.
  • Summative Assessment: Summative assessment is a final consideration of the degree to which students have demonstrated overall mastery of the stated learning objectives of a course or program.

Evaluation: Evaluation is the process of determining whether learning outcomes are being met in a course or program. It does not prescribe particular methodologies nor proscribe others.

Goal: The Salem State University Curriculum Committee requires that every course syllabus state the course goal(s) which provide the overarching or guiding principle of the course. Ideally, a course should have one goal. A Goal is broad and sweeping, such as to “introduce students to the concepts of the discipline,” and cannot itself be assessed. The course goal should help shape the learning outcomes of the course, and it is these outcomes which can be assessed.

Measures: Measures of student learning can be drawn from work done by students specifically designed to assess learning or from implied learning demonstrated by samples drawn from outside course or program work.

  • Direct Measures: Direct measures directly evaluate student work. Direct measures include exams, papers, project, art works, musical performances and the like. [Note that not all student work done as part of a course can necessarily be used for assessment purposes.]
  • Indirect Measures: Indirect measures include student and alumni self-reports of how well they thought they learned, graduate and professional school acceptances, job placement rates, external constituencies’ reports of graduates’ competencies, etc.

Objective: The Salem State University Curriculum Committee requires that every course syllabus state the course “Instructional Learning Outcomes,” or objectives. Objectives are specific skill or topic-related criteria, such as the ability to read a graph, the ability to write a persuasive essay, the ability to determine the identity of a mineral, the ability to give an effective  presentation on an assigned topic. Objectives are directly assessable and are often evaluated with rubrics.

  • Departmental and institutional level objectives are an expression of learning outcomes that all students graduating from a department of institution should be able to demonstrate regardless of their specific courses of study.

Rubric: An educational rubric is a matrix that explicitly states the criteria and standards for student work, identifying the traits that are important and describing levels of performance within each trait. A rubric states the outcomes for a particular assignment and is used to shape the scoring of that assignment. The same rubric can be used across sections as part of a normative assessment. Rubrics used in assessment list traits that are, or closely align with, learning objectives. The scoring of such a rubric constitutes an assessment of student learning.

Part II: Related Instruments, Organizations and Terms

Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency is a standardized test developed by ACT (American College Testing) that claims to enable higher education institutions to assess and evaluate student learning outcomes and general education program outcomes relative to peer institutions that also administer CAAP, one of three standardized tests accepted by the VSA project.

Collegiate Learning Assessment is administered by the Council for Aid to Education and claims to enable higher education institutions to assess and evaluate student learning outcomes and general education program outcomes relative to peer institutions that also administer the CLA, one of three standardized tests accepted by the VSA project.

The Commissioner of the [Massachusetts] Board of Higher Education Advisory Group on Undergraduate Education (CAGUE) final report was issued in December 2009.

 The ETS Proficiency Profile (formerly the Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress) claims to assess general education skills such as critical thinking, reading, writing, and mathematics and is administered to freshman, sophomores, and upperclassman. The EPP, created by ETS, is one of three standardized tests accepted by the VSA project.

The Faculty Survey of Student Engagement is designed to complement the National Survey of Student Engagement. The FSSE seeks to determine faculty perceptions of how often students engage in different activities, the importance faculty place on various areas of learning and development, the nature and frequency of faculty-student interactions, and how faculty members organize their time, both in and out of the classroom.

Liberal Education and America’s Promise  is a national initiative sponsored by the AAC&U that seeks to champion the importance of a twenty-first-century liberal education. Hundreds of campuses and several state systems are making far-reaching educational changes as part of the LEAP initiative.

National Institute for Learning Outcomes “assists institutions and others in discovering and adopting promising practices in the assessment of college student learning outcomes.”

The National Survey of Student Engagement annually collects information at four-year colleges and universities about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development. The results provide one estimate of how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending college.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges is the primary higher education accrediting body in New England. The NEASC Standards “are an articulation by the higher education community of what a college or university must do in order to deserve the public trust. They also function as a framework for institutional development and self-evaluation.”

The New England Educational Assessment Network seeks to promote quality assessment of student learning and development, and thus to enhance the effectiveness of institutions of higher education. NEEAN offers its membership opportunities to learn about best practices and emerging trends in assessment through a twice yearly journal, conferences, workshops and other means.

The New England Faculty Development Consortium is a regional organization dedicated to enhancing the professional development of faculty and administrators committed to excellence in teaching and learning. NEFDC offers a variety of programming throughout the year.

Reliability is the degree to which an assessment tool produces stable and consistent results.

Standardized tests offer a common set of questions, most frequently to be answered on a multiple choice basis, that are designed to measure test takers against each other and a standard established by the creators of the test or by the institution administering the test.

Underserved students are most often minority students, students from low-income families, and first-generation college students.

Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education is part of the AAC&U’s LEAP initiative and seeks “to build on a philosophy of learning assessment that privileges multiple expert judgments of the quality of student work over reliance on standardized tests administered to samples of students outside of their required courses…The assessment approaches that VALUE advances are based on the shared understanding of faculty and academic professionals on campuses from across the country.”

Validity refers to how well a test measures what it purports to measure. [While reliability is necessary, it alone is not sufficient. For a test to be reliable, it also needs to be valid. For example, if your scale is off by 5 lbs, it reads your weight every day with an excess of 5lbs. The scale is reliable because it consistently reports the same weight every day, but it is not valid because it adds 5lbs to your true weight. It is not a valid measure of your weight (source).]

The Vision Project of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education seeks to demonstrate that public higher education can act in a unified and focused way to ensure the future well-being of the Commonwealth. The project “is the vehicle through which public higher education has come together to stay focused on this work and hold ourselves accountable for results.” The Summary of Educational Work 2010-2011 is posted on the web for all to read.

The Voluntary Statement of Accountability is an initiative by public 4-year universities that seeks to supply basic, comparable information on the undergraduate student experience to important constituencies through a common web report – the College Portrait, sponsored by two higher education associations, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Association of State Colleges and Universities.