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Program Assessment

How do we determine if the outcomes of our programs are being achieved?

It is not enough to dream about and design relevant and innovative curriculum, we also have to assess it and determine if our objectives and outcomes are being met.

While assessment is part of Quality Council's Quality Assurance Framework, or QAF, curriculum assessment is also good pedagogical practice.

In research, we don't just collect data and let it sit; we analyze it and, in some cases, make policy or practice recommendations based on our assessment. This element of analysis is important for our programs' curriculum too: Are students meeting the Outcomes set out for the program? Are the courses aligned with each other and the program goals in the ways that were envisioned? Are there elements of the curriculum that can, or should be, refreshed?

Essentially we're asking:

What Program Assessment Is:

  • An evaluation of whether the parts and whole of a program are being achieved
  • A discrete focus on and analysis of curriculum
  • An opportunity for the discussion and development of a shared program vision amongst colleagues

What Program Assessment Is Not:

  • Individual student performance shown though assignment grades (for more see Eberly Center)
  • Teaching evaluations
  • An opportunity to demonstrate individual excellence or failure

Common Misconceptions can be found here

Why Do We Assess Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs)?

  • To ensure the program and the Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) are effectively aligned with program courses and that program courses are effectively aligned with the PLOs
  • To ensure that there is space within courses to monitor the progression of the PLOs achievement, i.e. that there are key assignments within courses designed to assess PLOs
  • To ensure when assessing the program, we are not assessing students or faculty. We are instead looking at how the program works together to reach the goals set out in the PLOs
  • To ensure that the program and PLOs are being monitored to best reflect the needs to students, the field(s) of study, and/or future profession
  • To ensure it is a program of quality as defined by Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance

Assessment Tools

*Note: Multiple assessment tools can and should be used to provide a multidimensional analysis of the program

  • Course mapping (Discussed here)
  • Assignment(s) in key courses (Discussed here) (Also see examples in HEQCO's Handbook)
  • Cumulative program experience, such as a Capstone
  • Portfolios of students' work collected throughout their program
  • Student progress reports
  • Surveys and/or focus groups with current students
  • Surveys and/or focus groups with alumni
  • Institutional Data

Useful Questions to Drive Assessment

  • Can there be key assessments in courses that are developed and discussed amongst many faculty?
  • Can these findings and discussions be recorded and used to develop a plan for change?
  • Is there a ways we can make sure that what we're teaching and what students are learning are in alignment?

Common Misconceptions About Program Assessment from the University of Central Florida

"Nothing could be further from the truth. Faculty awareness, participation, and ownership are essential for successful program assessment, but assessment results should never be used to evaluate or judge individual faculty performance. The results of program assessment are used to improve programs."

- University of Central Florida (2005)

"The primary purpose of program assessment is to improve the quality of educational programs by improving student learning. Even if you feel that the quality of your program is good, there is always room for improvement. In addition, various accrediting bodies mandate conducting student outcomes assessment. .. Not to conduct assessment is not an option."

- University of Central Florida (2005)

"While it is a good idea to have one or two faculty members head the assessment process for the department, it is really important and beneficial to have all faculty members involved. Each person brings to the table different perspectives and ideas for improving the academic program. Also it is important that all faculty members understand and agree to the mission (i.e., purpose) and goals of the academic program."

- University of Central Florida (2005)

"There are two types of evaluation processes: summative and formative. The purpose of summative program evaluation is to judge the quality and worth of a program. On the other hand, the purpose of formative program evaluation is to provide feedback to help improve and modify a program. Program assessment is intended as a formative evaluation and not a summative evaluation. The results of program assessment will not be used to eliminate programs."

- University of Central Florida (2005)

"The primary purpose of assessment is to identify the important objectives and learning outcomes for your program with the purpose of improving student learning. Anything that enhances and improves the learning, knowledge, and growth of your students cannot be considered a waste of time."

- University of Central Florida (2005)

"For program assessment to be successful, it must be an ongoing and continuous process. Just as your program should be improving, so should your assessment plan and measurement methods. Each academic department must look at its programs and its learning outcomes on a continual basis and determine if there are better ways to measure student learning and other program outcomes. Your assessment plan should be continuously reviewed and improved."

- University of Central Florida (2005)

"Effective program assessment will take some of your time and effort, but there are steps that you can follow that can help you to develop an assessment plan that will lead to improving student learning."

- University of Central Florida (2005)

Developing an assessment plan will help streamline your energies and clarify your actions during an assessment cycle (which could be defined as time time between Cyclical Program Review Self Studies, which happen every seven years). But, as the University of Central Florida has said, you are not alone in this. At York University, the Office of the Vice Provost Academic, the Teaching Commons, and curriculum/teaching and learning supports in your Faculty can help you develop and implement your assessment plan. Contact anyone of us to start this conversation.

Key Links

Additional Resources

Interesting Readings

Henning, Gavin, and Anne E. Lundquist. 2022. Using Assessment to Advance Equity. New Directions for Student Services. 2022(178-179), 185-194.

MacFarlane, Alexandra & Brumwell, Sarah. 2016. The Landscape of Learning Outcomes Assessment in Canada. HEQCO.

Watling, Christopher J., and Shiphra Ginsburg. 2019. Assessment, Feedback and the Alchemy of LearningMedical Education53(1), 76-85.

Walvoord, Barbara. 2011. How to Construct a Simple, Sensible, Useful Departmental Assessment ProcessLiterary Study, Measurement, and the Sublime: Disciplinary assessment, 335-352.

Interested in renewing or innovating your curriculum?

Explore our resources or contact our Program and Curriculum Development Specialist for support.