What do I need to know about outcome assessment and what does it mean to “close the loop”?

An “outcome” is a measurable result. In “outcome assessment” we count, rank or scale results for the purpose of gathering information that can help us to improve a course, major or program. Many kinds of results can be measured in outcome assessment. Academic departments often measure student performance, student satisfaction, student success, time-to-degree, class enrollment patterns and so on.

Outcome assessment is part of an “assessment cycle”. This is made clear by breaking the cycle into steps:

Step 1: The dept establishes a mission, and goals based on that mission.
Step 2: The dept writes Student Learning Objectives (SLOs are statements about what students who achieve departmental goals know or can do).
Step 3: The dept selects outcomes that indicate whether SLOs and goals have been met.
Step 4:The dept measures the outcomes and studies the result.
Step 5:The dept changes something to improve performance, then repeats the assessment.

Example: One dept on campus examined the alumni survey and noted that its graduates were less satisfied with the career and professional advising they received than were graduates of other majors in the college. Based on this data, the dept added a career advising workshop and a workshop on applying to graduate school for its seniors. The dept also added more career advising to their website. The dept will look forward to the next alumni survey to see if their graduates are now more satisfied with their career advising. Career advising is directly connected to a departmental goal to “prepare students for a variety of careers.”

This dept has “closed the loop” by making a program improvement based on assessment data.

Outcome assessment, unlike previous forms of accountability, is continuous. Once the cycle is completed it is repeated in an ongoing fashion. This ensures sustained program improvement.

An illustrated explanation of outcome assessment, and further examples, can be found here.

Isn’t grading assessment?

Outcome assessment is distinct from grading because grades are typically used to assess students and not programs. However, if a department tracked grades for the purpose of improving a program, grades could be used. For instance, let’s say a department goal is to increase the number of students they graduate. In looking at their major enrollment, the department sees that they would have more majors if fewer students failed their gateway classes. In order to raise the pass rate in these classes the department creates a new support service—say an online tutorial resource or a peer-led study center. To assess this resource the department could use future grades as an outcome measure of the success of the support service.


Who can help me with program assessment?

Your principal resource for assistance with program assessment is your Dean or Associate Dean. Assistance can also be provided by the Center for Instructional Innovation & Assessment and the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

Page Updated 11.27.2017