The Center for Teaching Excellence

Assessment Basics

Glossary Index


Assessing Critical Thinking projects (i.e., ACT projects)
The Assessing Critical Thinking Projects, or, as they’re more commonly called, the ACT projects, were designed to assist individual faculty in assessing critical thinking in one of their courses. ACT participants commonly work in teams of 3 or 4 with an Assessment Fellow to modify and adapt a critical thinking assessment tool for their own course, revise a major course assignment to identify expected student learning outcomes for critical thinking, use the tool to assess students’ work on the assignment, and use the assessment results to modify the assignment. Rubrics and results from the ACT projects can be found on Miami's Liberal Education website.

The systematic collection of information about student learning, using the time, knowledge, expertise, and resources available, in order to inform decisions about how to improve learning. 5

Assessment Fellow
The Assessment Fellows are a group of faculty members who have been working for several years to develop methods of assessing critical thinking and to share their interest in this with the university community. The Assessment Fellows have conducted assessments of critical thinking in foundation and capstone courses, have guided faculty in the Assessing Critical Thinking projects, and have conducted several workshops on assessing critical thinking and developing students’ critical thinking skills.

Authentic Assessment
Assessments that ask students to do real-life tasks, such as completing internships, analyzing case studies with bona fide data, or conducting realistic laboratory experiments.4

"Beginning College Student Survey," which is administered to incoming students during the first week of classes or earlier. Click here for additional information about the BCSS and other surveys conducted at Miami University.

Capstone Course
Included in the Miami Plan for Liberal Education, Miami University capstone courses are designed to culminate a liberal education curriculum (as distinct, for example, from culminating a major).

"Cooperative Institutional Research Program," this survey is distributed to incoming first-year students before classes begin. Click here for additional information about the CIRP and other surveys conducted at Miami University.

Closing the Loop
In full-cycle assessment, closing the loop refers to completed the last step of the cycle; that is, using the assessment results in order to modify the curriculum and establish the learning outcomes. In the Learning Systems Design Model, closing the loop refers to Stage D, which feeds back into the other stages of the model. 4

Very specific statements that define learning or developmental outcomes (e.g., “Students identify the main problem and subsidiary, embedded, or implicit aspects of the problem, and identifies them clearly, addressing their relationships to each other”).

"College Student Survey," this survey examines students' cognitive and affective growth during college. Click here for additional information about the CSS and other surveys conducted at Miami University.

Direct Assessment Methods
Direct measures require a student to actually demonstrate the skill, quality, or value that is being measured. Contrast this with indirect assessment methods, which do not directly demonstrate a skills. Strong assessment should include direct assessment methods, when possible. Examples of Direct Measures: student performance on a specific course assignment (“embedded course assessment”), portfolios, performance (e.g., student teaching, musical performance), thesis/senior papers, specific tests. 1, 3, 4

Embedded Assessment
Assessments that are embedded or included in regular coursework or programs. For example, assessing students’ final papers in a course for evidence of critical thinking, or assessing lab reports to determine students’ demonstration of appropriate research design. 3, 4

A collection of multiple kinds of student-generated texts stored electronically, a portfolio provides evidence of a learner’s achievements along the continuum of learning. 3

Formative Assessment
Formative assessment is conducted with the purpose of improving student learning; typically conducted midway through a course or program, formative assessment provides faculty and students with feedback on students’ learning and is used to make changes to course activities and assignments. 1, 3, 4

Foundation Course
Included in the Miami Plan for Liberal Education, foundation courses provide students with foundation learning experiences that especially distinguish liberal education—fine arts, historical perspectives, laboratory work, mathematics, formal reasoning and understandings of U.S. and world cultures and technology—in addition to English composition, humanities, natural science and social science.

"Faculty Survey of Student Engagement," which is administered to faculty at Miami. Click here for additional information about the FSSE and other surveys conducted at Miami University.

Full-Cycle Assessment
Assessment that is viewed as a continuous cycle, rather than a one-time project. Full-cycle assessment typically includes: 1) identifying learning outcomes, 2) examining students’ opportunities to achieve these outcomes (e.g., course structure or assignments), 3) assessing student learning or development, and 4) using the results of the assessment in order to redesign (a) learning outcomes and (b) opportunities. The Learning Systems Design Model provides an example of full-cycle assessment.

Broad statements describing what educators would like students to accomplish as the result of their course or program (e.g., “students will engage in critical thinking”). Alternative Terms: Some educators use the terms goals and outcomes interchangeably. However, outcomes, as used at Miami University, refer to more specific, action-oriented descriptions.

"Graduate Student Survey," this survey examines graduate students' experiences and satisfaction in a variety of areas. Click here for additional information about the GSS and other surveys conducted at Miami University.

HERI Faculty Survey
The HERI Faculty Survey examines issues such as faculty members' job satisfaction, workload, and teaching methods. Click here for additional information about the HERI Faculty Survey and other surveys conducted at Miami University.

Indirect Assessment Methods
Indirect measures are measures that are related to the learning outcome and indirectly suggest that a student has achieved the outcome, but do not directly demonstrate the students’ skill, value, etc. For example, an indirect measure might entail asking students whether they believe they have learned a certain skill, rather than having students actually demonstrate this skill. Contrast this with direct assessment methods, which explicitly demonstrate a student's skills. Examples of Indirect Measures: surveys (e.g., student or faculty perceptions of learning), graduation or retention rate data, GPA, graduate school or job placement rates. Indirect measures are best utilized in conjunction with direct measures. 1, 3, 4

Learning Outcomes
See Outcomes (Student Learning Outcomes or Developmental Outcomes).

Miami Plan
The term “Miami Plan” refers to the liberal education curriculum completed by undergraduates at Miami University. Miami Plan courses are intentionally designed around four key principles: 1) thinking critically, 2) understanding contexts, 3) engaging with other learners, and 4) reflecting and acting. As a part of the Miami Plan, students complete foundation courses, thematic sequences, and capstone courses.

Miami Plan Program Review/Miami Plan Assessment Reports
Miami Plan Assessment Reports are designed to help departments analyze their Miami Plan course offerings and to assess student learning outcomes with respect to the four Miami Plan principles (thinking critically, understanding contexts, engaging with other learners, and reflecting and acting).

"National Survey of Student Engagement," which examines students' academic experiences and satisfaction. Click here for additional information about the NSSE and other surveys conducted at Miami University.

Outcomes (Student Learning Outcomes or Developmental Outcomes)
Specific statements that describe the skills, abilities, knowledge, or values that students should be able to do or demonstrate as a result of the course or program (e.g., “the student identifies and summarizes the problem or question at issue”).

Outcome statements use active verbs to describe what students can do or demonstrate (e.g., identify, present, summarize), and should avoid vague terms such as “know” or “understand” (e.g., “the student understands how to write a research paper”). Outcomes are sometimes broken down into more specific statements called criteria. Alternative Terms: Some educators use the terms goals and outcomes interchangeably.

Outcomes in the Majors Project
For the Outcomes in the Majors projects, departments identify 2 or 3 general areas in which they expect their majors to develop competence, specify specific and measurable outcomes for each, develop methods of assessing those outcomes, and use the resulting information to modify, as necessary, the curriculum.

Qualitative Assessment
Assessment in which the data cannot be analyzed using quantitative methods (e.g., statistical analyses), but rather are interpreted by observers, typically by looking for recurring patterns and themes or using set criteria. Examples: interviews, focus groups, or observations of student performance. 2, 3, 4

Quantitative Assessment
Assessment in which data can be summarized into meaningful numbers and analyzed using quantitative methods (e.g., statistical analyses). Examples: questionnaires of student perceptions, test scores. 2, 3, 4

A guide that describes the criteria that will be used to score or grade an assignment. A rubric identifies the traits that are important and describes the levels of performance (e.g., unacceptable to excellent) within each of the traits. Sample rubrics are available on the assessment website. 4, 5

Student Learning Outcomes
See Outcomes (Student Learning Outcomes or Developmental Outcomes).

Summative Assessment
Unlike formative assessment, summative assessment is typically conducted at the end of a course or program. Summative assessment is used to determine the extent to which students achieved the specified outcomes. It is a method of demonstrating course or program effectiveness. 1, 3, 4

Thematic Sequence
Included in the Miami Plan for Liberal Education, a Thematic Sequence is a series of related courses (usually three) that focus on a theme or subject in a developmental way. Each course builds upon or expands upon knowledge or perspective gained from preceding courses, and some sequences prepare students for Capstone Experiences.

Three-Tiered Model
The multi-tiered model of assessment used by Miami University includes three tiers: Tier 1 (Course design and structure-faculty analysis), Tier 2 (Student perceptions), and Tier 3 (Student learning outcomes).

"Your First College Year," this survey examines first-year students' social and academic adjustment to college. Click here for additional information about the YFCY and other surveys conducted at Miami University.

References for Glossary Terms

  1. Hernon, P. & Dugan, R. E. (Eds.). (2004). Outcomes Assessment in Higher Education: Views and Perspectives. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
  2. Leskes, A. (2002). Beyond Confusion: An Assessment Glossary. Peer Review, 4(2/3).
  3. Maki, P. L. (2004). Assessing for Learning: Building a Sustainable Commitment Across the Institution. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  4. Suskie, L. (2004). Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.
  5. Walvoord, B. E. (2004). Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Contact Us:

317 Laws Hall • 551 E. High St., Oxford, OH 45056 • 513-529-9266 • email

© 2016 Miami University | 501 East High Street | Oxford, Ohio 45056 | 513-529-1809
Equal opportunity in education and employment | Trouble viewing this page?
Privacy Statement | Miami University is a smoke-free environment.