• Helps us examine our assumptions regarding student learning
  • Provides evidence to determine whether students have acquired the knowledge, skills and experiences associated with their program or individual courses
  • Informs Curriculum and Instruction
  • Creates a shared academic culture dedicated to assuring and improving quality

What is Assessment?

Assessment is an on-going 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 larger institutional systems, 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.

(Definition by The American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) Bulletin, 48 (2), November 1995, pp. 7-9.)

The Assessment Cycle

Process Updated 3

Are Assessment and Grading the Same Thing?

Although the terms are closely related, there are some big differences between the terms assessment and grading.


Grades are typically used to summarize academic quality of a project, assignment or completion of a course.  If a student completes an American history course with a final grade of a B, we can assume that the student knows something about American history.  However, the grade doesn’t tell us what content the student has mastered.


Assessment looks at the learning outcomes to determine acquired knowledge or skills in specific areas. 


Below are outcomes for a United States history course:

1. Compare and contrast the Spanish, French and British colonies in North America

2. Identify the competing political philosophies in the early nation period

3. Analyze the impact European exploration and colonization had on Native American Populations

3. Analyze the causes, course and outcome of the Civil War

If a student earned a B in this course, would we know if the student was competent in all four outcomes?  How could one letter grade explain acquired skills in these specific areas? 

Assessment is a tool for faculty to measure the progress of student learning on course outcomes. Grades can be averaged and don’t tell the specific story of strengths or weaknesses. Whereas assessment provides details on specific learning outcomes.   


Example: An 81% or a letter grade of a B was earned on the exam above.  Although this is an above average grade, we really can’t tell which learning outcomes were met based on this grade.

Table Sample

Example: In assessment we align grading to learning outcomes.  In the example above, you can see that this student did fairly well on three of the four outcomes.  It is clear when looking at the questions aligned to the outcomes that this student did not master outcome 2.  When we assess all exams this way, we may see patterns.  If most the class did very well on outcome 1, this confirms attainment of knowledge.  Likewise, if all students struggled with outcome 2, this could inform curriculum and or instruction methods.  

For more information: Grading vs. Assessment: What’s the Difference?

Action Research

What Type of Research is Assessment?

Assessment is a form of scholarly research, specifically action research. Action research is a “distinct type of research whose purpose is to inform and better one’s own practice rather than make broad generalizations” (Suskie, 2018, p. 11). While action research contains many of the components of scholarly research, many faculty do not have the time to complete empirical studies surrounding student learning. Thus, faculty keep the benefits of assessment in proportion to the time and resources devoted to them.

Adapted from: Suskie, L. (2018). Assessing student learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc