Program Assessment

Assessment 101

Assessment is the systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs to improve student learning and development. All academic programs at RIT engage in program assessment by following a Program Level Outcomes Assessment Plan (PLOAP). PLOAPs are stored electronically in RIT’s Assessment Management System, Taskstream by Watermark, where programs can track and archive assessment findings and use of results. Programs complete the annual Academic Program Improvement Progress Report to provide evidence of academic quality and how data are used to improve programs.

Conducting regular assessment helps an academic program determine how the curriculum is contributing to the learning and development of students. Assessment helps programs:

  • Discover what students are learning
  • Identify gaps in student learning
  • Inform teaching by aligning practices with learners’ needs
  • Make informed decisions to guide curriculum, course action, and revision
  • Demonstrate overall program effectiveness; showcase student learning ‐ "what works"

You are already an assessment practitioner if you engage in the following:

  • Develop and share student learning outcomes that are connected to the goals of the program
  • Link student learning outcomes to the broader mission and goals of the college and university
  • Map where in the curriculum (courses/assignments/educational experiences) students have the opportunity to work toward the student learning outcomes
  • Develop and use direct measure(s) to determine whether students have met the learning outcomes in the appropriate places in the curriculum
  • Analyze and communicate assessment results
  • Use assessment findings to inform changes
  • Articulate the link between student learning outcomes assessment results and improvements made to student learning, pedagogy, curriculum, academic programs, or assessment processes

Resource: Use our Program Assessment Best Practices Checklist to see how your program is doing and get ideas for improvement

Assessment Cycle for Academic Programs

Plan, integrate, and improve utilizing the AMS Academic Program Workspace (Taskstream) to maximize your program assessment efforts focused on student learning and program improvement. Use the following guidelines to effectively manage your assessment processes and practices. 

fall season on campus with leaves changing color tor orange, red, yellow and some green still remain

Fall Semester

Implement identified action items from previous semester

Collect student learning outcomes data 

Enter findings and action items in the Taskstream workspace 

Complete Annual Progress Report (report on previous year)

students sitting at a table working on laptops and notepads outside at RIT's Global Village

Spring Semester

Implement identified action items from previous semester

Collect student learning outcomes data 

Enter findings and action items in the Taskstream workspace

Review results from the Annual Progress Report

students in shorts and t-shirts outside socializing on RIT's campus in the summer sun


Share Progress Report results and action items with program faculty

Enter information and actions into Taskstream workspace

Prepare for the next Progress Report


Reporting: RIT Annual Progress Report (August-November)

Using Assessment Results for Improvement

One of the most challenging aspects of assessment is using the results to reflect upon current practice and facilitate program change. This phase of assessment planning is often referred to as “closing the loop.” Using assessment results is a key element to supporting a program’s continuous improvement processes. A critical starting point is the discussion of assessment findings among program faculty and staff. Programs might also share findings with deans, department chairs, college curriculum committees, governing bodies, and students (if appropriate). 

Here are sample questions to guide your discussion:

  • What did the assessment results indicate about the level of achievement of the student learning outcomes?
  • Did the results inform or guide program improvements to curriculum or instruction?
    • If yes, how and when will the improvement or change be implemented?
    • If yes, how will you know if the improvement or change improved student learning?
  • Did the program use any other data to guide improvement to program services or support?
  • In what ways are you able to “close the loop” and use data to improve student learning outcomes or the program?

Course Level Assessment

Course-level assessment helps instructors answer the critical question: what are students learning in my course? Course assessment should occur continuously throughout the semester, providing opportunities for formative feedback and focusing on authentic demonstrations of learning. The three key elements to successful course learning assessment include (1) establishing student learning outcomes for the course, (2) measuring whether these outcomes have been met, and (3) using the results to improve teaching and learning in the course.

The following resources can be used to help establish clear objectives and learning outcomes, align the learning outcomes to course activities, and design assessments that provide evidence of student achievement.

Glossary of Terms

The following terms will help you develop your understanding and practice of assessment. These definitions are specific to RIT’s assessment processes.

A transparent, collaborative, and comprehensive process providing faculty and administration with information needed to support and guide a university process of continual program planning, quality improvement, and resource allocation. Conducted on an established cycle, this review includes a comprehensive analysis of the structure, processes, and outcomes of the program with results typically reported to senior university leadership and the Board of Trustees.

A document that outlines the student learning outcomes and program objectives, the direct and indirect assessment methods used to demonstrate the attainment of each outcome/objective, a brief explanation of the assessment methods, an indication of which outcomes are addressed by each method, the intervals at which evidence is collected and reviewed, and the individual(s) responsible for the collection/review of evidence.

Specific standards against which programs gauge success in achieving an outcome. Benchmarks or standards determine the acceptable level of achievement for each unit outcome/objective. Defining acceptability or unacceptability will depend upon the importance of the outcome/objective and type of measure (direct or indirect).

An analytical approach that allows faculty to identify important components of program curricula, place them in relation to each other in a visual format, and then capture an overarching curricular structure to support cognitive scaffolding for further analysis. A curriculum map is a visual tool that can be used to introduce new students and faculty to the program, curriculum discussion, and accreditation requirements. It provides an approach to systematically study the curriculum and is especially helpful in implementing an assessment plan.

The following dimensions are areas of university activity within which RIT must be successful in order to realize the vision of the Strategic Plan and the university mission. The four dimensions help organize the goals and performance commitments of the plan and emphatically express current university priorities. The Dimensions are:

  • Dimension One: People
  • Dimension Two: Programs
  • Dimension Three: Places
  • Dimension Four: Partnerships

Each dimension has sub-categories and associated objectives. 

Direct assessment of learning occurs when measures of learning are based on student performance or demonstrate the learning itself. Examples include scoring performance on tests, term papers, or the execution of lab skills. Direct assessment of learning can occur within a course (e.g., performance on a series of tests) or across courses or years (comparing writing scores from second to fourth year).

Assessment that measures the campus-wide, general education competencies agreed upon by the faculty. General education assessment is more holistic in nature than program assessment, because competencies are measured across disciplines, rather than just within a single discipline.

Indirect assessment of learning uses perceptions, reflections, or secondary evidence to make inferences about student learning. For example, surveys of employers, students' self-assessments, and course grades are indirect evidence of learning.

The systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs, undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development.

Broad statements that describe the long-term program targets or directions of development and defining what the program wants to accomplish (in student learning outcomes) or desires to become over the next several years.

Program Level Assessment focuses on what and how an academic program is contributing to the learning, growth, and development of students as a group.

A measurable statement of what students should know and be able to do as a result of their course work and educational experiences at an institution or in a program of study.