Evidence of Student Learning

I. Start with your learning goals

Choose 1-2 department learning goals per year. This is a repeated, multi-year process. For example:

Year 1: Learning Goals 1, 2

Year 2: Learning Goals 3, 4

Year 3: Learning Goal 5

Year 4-on: Repeat the cycle!

II. Locate the right evidence

Identify courses, experiences, or groups of students from which to collect data. You can refer to your curriculum map to determine this.

  • From this group, identify 1-2 assignments or measures that will provide information about the outcome. It is easiest to start with assignments or projects that are already in use-- embedded assignments provide the most valid evidence at all levels as they are most likely to be aligned with learning objectives and goals.
    • Some disciplines may also have external instruments specific to the discipline that may prove helpful, e.g., American Chemical Society exams (Chemistry) or ACTFL oral proficiency interviews (French)
  • Senior Projects or Portfolios are a great way to get at what student have learned by the time they complete your major!
  • Be sure to look at all students in the program or a representative sample! Do not just focus on Honors students, for example.
  • It is best to use a combination of direct and indirect measures
    • Direct evidence: assesses what a student has learned through a demonstration of that knowledge. Examples include exams, papers, performances.
    • Indirect evidence: assesses what a student has learned through proxy indicators. This include evidence of students’ perceptions about learning and perceptions from others about what students know. Examples include senior surveys, exit interviews, grades, graduate school admissions, teaching evaluations. In these cases, the evidence and the learning goal may not be directly aligned but is still indicative of some learning. With student self-reports, there is a greater likelihood of either inflation or downplaying what was actually learned. Indirect evidence implies that student have learned something but cannot demonstrate it. This is why it is important to include direct evidence in your assessment plan

III. Get together

At the end of each year or semester, get together and systematically look for evidence of learning. This is best done by a group of faculty, including those who do not teach the course, to improve reliability. Rubrics (link to our own page) can be especially helpful here, indicating what high and low achievement of particular learning goals looks like.

IV. Evaluate the evidence

Compare this to the desired outcomes. For example, how many seniors are able to use the proper disciplinary methods to conduct research (if that’s a learning goal for your department)? How well are they doing that in their final 300-level seminar? What do they report in exit interviews about that process? Are students in the major’s 200-level courses learning the content and skills they need to set them on a path to achieve that learning goal later?

V. Close the loop!

Develop and implement a plan for your program, department, or major, focused on improving student learning. Is there is a course majors should be taking in order to achieve those outcomes, but which your department does not yet offer? Should you think about having all 300-level seminars require a research paper or instruction in some technical skill? Are there courses that offer great learning experiences but may not make sense as a major requirement or which may need to be revised, given your departmental learning goals?


  • If you are looking for evidence of thinking and performance skills, consider assignments planned and evaluated using scoring guides or rubrics.
  • If you are looking for evidence of knowledge and conceptual understanding, consider a comprehensive exam or an assignment or exam questions already embedded within courses that require demonstration of skill in application or analysis.
  • If you are looking for evidence of attitudes, values, dispositions or habits of mind, consider reflective writing, surveys, focus groups, or interviews.
  • If you are looking for an overall picture of student learning, consider portfolios (using scoring guides or rubrics).

Adapted from: Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 34.

A Note about Performance Dip

New or recent changes in programs, courses, or curriculum can take time to show improvement. Often we see a dip in performance related to the changes. Allow time for changes to take hold and for instructors to adjust to new practices. This is especially important when faculty are using a new teaching method or the department has made adjustments to course sequencing or content.