Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

Glossary of Assessment Terms

Achievement target: Desired level of performance. Often used synonymously with outcome or desired result.

Assessment: The systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs for the purpose of improving student learning. Assessment is a process that includes developing a statement of expected outcomes, the criteria for achievement, and the appropriate measurement tools or strategies for determining how well the outcomes have been met.

Authentic assessment: Assessment tasks that are realistic and meaningful to the student. Students demonstrate their knowledge or skills through performance in a “real-life” context, as opposed to standardized tests. Rubrics are typically used to measure student performance in an authentic assessment.

Classroom assessment: Formative evaluation that provides the instructor with feedback on the effectiveness of classroom teaching strategies and methods.

Course-level assessment: Collection of data about the degree to which the student learning outcomes for a specific course are evidenced in student learning. Faculty engage in course assessment by evaluating student performance on assignments, projects, and exams, and then using that information to improve student learning. The focus is on understanding the performance of an entire class or the effectiveness of the course across multiple sections.

Curriculum mapping (also called curriculum matrix): Curriculum mapping is a process for collecting and recording curriculum-related data to identify core skills and content taught, processes employed, and assessments used for each course and level in a degree program. The purpose of a curriculum map is to document the relationship among the components in the curriculum, and ultimately, to create a more coherent curriculum. A curriculum map can be used for analysis, communication, and planning. Faculty and academic units can review the curriculum map to check for unnecessary redundancies, inconsistencies, misalignments, and gaps; document the relationships between the required components of the curriculum and the intended student learning outcomes; and identify opportunities for integration; and review existing assessment methods.

Direct measure: Assessment information based on a sample of actual student work, including reports, exams, demonstrations, performances, presentations, and completed works. This is in contrast to an indirect measure. Examples include writing samples, exams, portfolios, presentations, scores on performance rubrics, etc.

Embedded assessment (also called course-embedded assessment): An assessment process that involves using the regular work that students produce in their classes as the material that is assessed or evaluated. These activities may be evaluated in different ways, depending on the student learning outcomes that are being targeted.

First-time freshmen: Students who, at the time of admissions, have never attended any postsecondary institution since graduation from high school, or whose only postsecondary enrollment was in the summer term immediately prior to their first fall enrollment at the university.

First-generation students: Students are identified as first-generation if neither parent nor guardian earned a 4-year college degree.

Formative assessment: Information about student performance that is used to improve student learning while the course is still in progress or the student is still in the degree program. Formative assessment allows the instructor to make changes in instruction to address areas in which students are having difficulty, or move forward when students have demonstrated the desired level of understanding or competency.

Indirect measure: Assessment information based on reports of perceived learning. Indirect measures include surveys and student self-assessment of their learning. Course grades are often indirect measures, as grades include information that does not measure student learning, such as attendance, attention to deadlines, and whether the student completed a graded activity or assignment.

Individual assessment: Information about what individual students are learning and how well they are meeting the goals of the course. This is what instructors typically do in their courses by reviewing student work, such as quizzes, exams, papers, projects, presentations, and portfolios.

Institutional assessment: Systematic collection of data about the degree to which broad institutional outcomes are being met. Institutional assessment is done for both internal improvement and to meet external accountability requirements. Mason reports institutional assessment data to its Board of Visitors (BOV), the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), our regional accreditation organization.

Learning objective: See learning outcome.

Learning outcome (also called learning objective, learning goal): A statement of the expectation for performance that the student is expected to achieve by the end of the course or program, relative to some knowledge or skill. Outcomes may be broken down into smaller and more specific learning objectives.

Native students: In data analysis and reporting, students are classified as either native students or transfer students based on their self-report on surveys (e.g., National Survey of Student Engagement report). Native students are those who reported starting their college education at Mason; transfer students are those who reported starting their college education elsewhere.

Outcomes-based assessment: Measures of performance against defined, measurable outcomes. Faculty and administrators purposefully plan the program to support student achievement of the outcomes, implement methods to systematically identify whether the end results have been achieved, and use the results to plan improvements or make recommendations for resource reallocation or requests. Assessment often conveys the same meaning.

Program-level assessment: Systematic collection of data about how well students are learning in their progression through a particular program, such as an academic degree or certificate program, general education, co-curricular programs, etc. Students or courses are analyzed collectively to learn the degree to which program goals are being achieved, to check alignment of program design with expected outcomes, and identify extra or missing curricular or co-curricular components of the program.

Program outcome (also called program objective, program goal): The knowledge, skills, and abilities students should possess when they complete a program. Educational or degree programs are more than a collection of random courses. Educational programs prepare students for a range of particular outcomes that can be stated in measurable terms. Program assessment seeks to determine the extent to which students in the program can demonstrate these outcomes.

Random sampling: A method of selecting a subset of a population where each member of the population has an equal chance of being chosen. Random sampling should produce a representative sample of the larger population.

Rubric: A criterion-based scoring guide that lists one or more dimensions or categories, and identifies levels of performance for each category.

Standardized test: A test that is administered, measured, and scored in a consistent and standard manner. Standardized scores (e.g., mean, standard deviation, percentiles) have been developed so that a student taking the test can compare his or her score to group, and often, historical data. These are also sometimes called achievement tests. Examples are the SAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc.

Summative assessment: Information about student learning at the end of a course to judge achievement of learning outcomes. Information can be used to inform future course development.