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Glossary of Assessment Terms

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A Short Glossary of Assessment Terms

Assessment terminology is not standardized so there are definitions and usages that differ regionally across the United States as well as internationally.  The short definitions provided here are keyed primarily to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) usage.

Program Learning Outcomes (PLO’s): a summative series of statements that inform all university stakeholders and the public what a student graduating from your program will know, do, and appreciate. They are about big ideas, skills, and competencies that students will be able to articulate, utilize, and/or put into action.

Student Learning Outcomes (SLO’s): usually begin with the phrase students will be able to….  They address observable, attainable areas of knowledge, skill, or practice that can be discretely measured.  A series of two to three SLO’s might role up to comprise one PLO.

Student Objectives or Student Learning Objectives: a confusing set of terms that in some areas of the country are synonyms for student learning outcomes.  For MSCHE accredited institutions learning objectives relate to course level assessment and are the objectives that we place on our syllabi indicating what students will know, do, or appreciate by the end of a course.

Learning Cascade: describes the relationships among PLO’s, SLO’s, and Objectives moving from broadest scope to most narrow scope.

Direct Assessment: Assessment activity in which an expert makes a decision regarding what and how well something was learned based on direct observation of student behavior or by scoring specific student artifacts such as papers, embedded test questions mapped to outcomes, pre-and post-test scores calculated for standardized gain, and/or application of a rubric to oral or physical presentations.

Indirect Assessment: Assessment activity such a surveys or other self-reported methods in which students evaluate their own learning. Also used for assessment carried out by peers for other peers. Grades on assignments are considered indirect assessment unless they are blue-printed and mapped directly to SLO’s.

Formative Assessment: sometimes called assessment for learning. It is assessment performed in order to provide direct feedback to students that will increase their learning.  For example, scoring a draft of a paper before a student’s final submission. Monitoring student learning through low stakes and homework assignments. The goal is to monitor student learning.

Summative Assessment: The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit.  For example, a mid-term exam, a final project or presentation, or a licensure exam. It is used most frequently in accountability and program evaluation.

Target: is a performance criterion that describes the percentage of students who will achieve the performance standard selected by the program as demonstrating proficiency or expected levels of learning.

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy: A hierarchical ordering of cognitive skills that define and distinguish among 7 different human learning levels.  While many educators question the usefulness of taxonomies to accurately describe the human learning process, the descriptive categories and verbs associated with those categories can be very useful in writing learning outcomes and objectives because they provide stable definitions of these stages and verbs no matter the order or differences in learning attainment per area. See this link for a good version 

Embedded Program Assessment: embedded assessment makes use of the actual work that students produce in their courses, in order to perform program level assessment.  This work is graded for the actual course; however, it is also evaluated with rubrics aligned with PLO’s and SLO’s with program outcomes in mind. It is the method we use for assessment of learning most frequently at Misericordia University.

For additional assessment glossary terms visit Download (PDF) The National Institute for Learning Outcome Assessment and Carnegie Mellon University