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Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

Assessment Explained


Assessment: The ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves making our expectations explicit and public; setting appropriate criteria and high standards for learning quality; systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well performance matches those expectations and standards; and using the resulting information to document, explain, and improve performance. When it is embedded effectively within our institutional system, assessment can help us focus our collective attention, examine our assumptions, and create a shared academic culture dedicated to assuring and improving the quality of higher education (Thomas A. Angelo, AAHE Bulletin, November 1995, p.7).


Understanding Assessment

The term ‘assessment’ is used in numerous ways. We often speak of assessing individual student performance in courses or courses of study; we evaluate individual student learning when we grade tests, essays, exercises, research papers, projects, performances, portfolios, comprehensive exams, theses and dissertations, etc.

But in this context of institutional improvement, ‘assessment’ refers to the process by which we gather data on student learning and review these data in aggregate to answer the question, “Are our students learning what we expect them to learn? The focus of assessment in this context is thus the program, not the individual student. In contrast to the evaluations we provide individual students (normally in the form of course grades) so that they can determine their progress in a course or course of study, assessment provides us, the faculty and administrators in charge of degree programs, with valuable information as to how well our programs are working with respect to student learning. We are thus our own primary audience for our assessment activities.

Faculty continually discuss whether their students are learning and if so, how well. The process of assessment regularizes and formalizes what faculty do as part their normal professional practice.

The results of any activities used for program or general education assessment may not be used for promotion and/or tenure files or for annual performance evaluations or for the evaluation of any student's progress in a course or progress toward a degree. Assessment activities, however, are integral to the processes of teaching and learning.


Why do Assessment?

We care about our students:

Faculty want to improve student learning. By measuring performance against learning outcomes and examining the results, faculty are able to discern what strategies or techniques are working well and what needs to be changed or modified.


University Policy:

Students, faculty, and staff play critical roles in the assessment process. Consequently, participation in assessment activities is a University priority and responsibility. The information gleaned from assessment activities is used for planning and program improvement. Many of the University's assessment activities are mandated by external agencies. Therefore, all students wishing to receive a degree from the University of South Carolina must complete procedures required for the assessment of general education and those required by their major and/or area of concentration. If a student fails to participate in a required assessment activity, a hold may be placed on the student's records.

Primary responsibility for the assessment of academic programs within the major or area of concentration is with the faculty of each academic unit. Information pertinent to assessment of the major or area of concentration is provided to students by the department from which the degree will be granted. (Excerpt from the Academic Bulletin)


Required for Accreditation:

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)

Standard: 3.3.1 The institution identifies expected outcomes, assesses the extent to which it achieves these outcomes, and provides evidence of improvement based on analysis of the results in each of the following areas (Institutional Effectiveness):

3.3.1.1 educational programs, to include student learning outcomes

DRAFT Standard 3.3.1.1