Assessment Academy

Jackson College has been accepted into the Higher Learning Commission’s Assessment Academy beginning Fall 2018. The Academies are programs aimed at assisting HLC-accredited institutions to define, develop and implement comprehensive strategies for institutional improvement. Designed and led by experienced practitioners, the Academies provide a framework and guidance for developing customized projects focused on leading areas of concern in higher education.

Project Overview

The project goal is to adapt a program outcomes matrix and use that as the framework for the project which will ultimately deliver well-defined program outcomes for all programs, and a cross-linked course-by-course contribution schema to those program outcomes.

This work will involve several steps:

  1. Start with current program maps and connect all the courses within the program of study by specifying which courses contribute, and in what fashion, to each of the five to seven outcomes that define the essential student achievements for that program;
  2. Examine each course, cross-linking course learning outcomes with program outcomes;
  3. Use Bloom’s taxonomy to define the type of contribution each course makes to each program outcome.

Timeline of Goals

The chosen project of the JC Assessment Academy is to first facilitate awareness of the key progression of measures throughout curricular programs. For example, identifying knowledge, application and evaluation. The project’s end goal is to clearly integrate and assess these markers in new competency based education programs. Naturally in the long-term, sharing the results and encouraging continuous improvement will follow.

Fall 2018: Assessment Academy orientation and kick-off

Assessment Academy team members attend initial HLC meetings and engage in professional development in preparation for academy work. In November, share specifics of Academy project plan with Leaders of Curriculum committee, full Assessment team and Academic Council. Begin to establish common language.

Dec. 2018: Initial Template Creation

Assessment Academy creates initial curriculum matrix template that links courses and learning levels to Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs).

Jan. 2019: Faculty Learning Days

January 9, 10 and 11. Kickoff of Academy project to all faculty. HLC scholar delivers presentation on Meaningful Assessment and writing strong PLOs. Program Leads use matrix template to review PLOs and provide feedback on tool.

Winter 2019: Refinement

Academy team finalizes first version of Curriculum Matrix tool. Discusses plan for integration with new Program Review process plans. Continues to refine and clarify common language around PLOs, learning levels, course competencies, and learning objectives.

Spring 2019: Program Review planning

Develop new Program Review process. Revise template and process so it is better aligned with program learning outcomes, Pathways, 7-weeks and CBE. Coach program leads conducting program reviews in 2019-20 to use matrix as part of their program reviews.

Summer 2019: Further Incorporating CBE

Begin to take step further with tool by adding CBE columns to original matrix template.

Fall 2019: Implementation

At Faculty Learning Days, discuss new program review process for 2019/20, including new curriculum matrix tool. Introduce CBE phase of project. Over term, develop new program review process that includes use of the tool. Increase number of programs linking PLOs with course-level competencies, learning objectives, and learning activities.

Jan. 2020: Faculty Learning Days

Goal to have all programs adopt curriculum matrix tool linking PLOs with courses and learning levels by this date.

Winter 2020: New Program Reviews

Program reviews presented using new curriculum matrix tool and process. Continue to increase number of programs linking PLOs with course-level competencies, learning objectives, and learning activities.

Spring/Summer 2020: Refinement

Gather feedback on new program review process. Make adjustments as needed. Finalize templates and tools to support CBE phase of project.

Fall 2020: CBE Implementation

Goal is to have all courses CBE-ready by this time, meaning that course competencies and associated assessments are identified for each course. Continue to connect program and course leads to link PLOs with course competencies, learning objectives, and learning activities.

ASL project timeline


Glossary of Terms

Term Definition
Assessment Discovering what students are learning and identifying ways to improve future learning. Assessment is necessary to determine if attained student learning meets the expectations of a course, program, or the institution.

What assessment is not: The focus of assessment is student learning, not faculty teaching. Assessment is not equivalent to grades. Grades can be a “flag,” but do not point to specific strengths and weaknesses of what students know or can do.

Levels of assessment The three main levels of assessment include the following:

  • Course: To what extent do students learn what they are supposed to learn in this course? How do we know?
  • Program/Discipline: How well does this program/discipline prepare students for work or transfer? How do we know?
  • Institution: At graduation, to what extent have students achieved the transcendent abilities defined by the college? How do we know? [We refer to these abilities as General Education Outcomes (GEOs) and Essential Competencies (ECs).]

Source: JC’s Assessment of Student Learning Handbook

Learning outcomes Very specifically describe what students are expected to know and be able to do in some measureable way. Typically framed as “Students will be able to <action verb> <something>.” They relate to the skills, knowledge, and behaviors that students acquire as they progress through a course or program. Note: There may be more than one measurable outcome defined for a given competency.
Competencies General but explicitly stated descriptions of knowledge, skills, and abilities that a learner must demonstrate mastery in to successfully complete a program of study or a course. They are concrete, measurable actions that can be reliably and validly assessed. They should be co-constructed with input from employers, faculty, subject matter experts, and/or licensing bodies, etc. Competencies commonly define the applied skills and knowledge that enable people to successfully perform in professional, educational, and other life contexts.
Learning levels Not all courses in a program of study attempt to achieve the same level of student learning. Early in a curriculum, courses typically introduce foundational concepts. Towards the middle, courses typically have students apply learning and analyze concepts. Towards the end of a curriculum, courses (such as capstone courses) push students to evaluate and synthesize content and ideas.

  • Introduce (knowledge and comprehension)
  • Reinforce (application and analysis)
  • Emphasize (evaluation and synthesis)
Curriculum map Shows connection between program outcomes and core courses. At JC, we worked on these as part of our monitoring report due in February 2019.
Curriculum matrix At JC, we will be working on building on our curriculum maps and enhancing them as curriculum matrices that connect and align program outcomes, course outcomes (with cognitive learning levels identified), and competencies. For simplified example, see below. This work will achieve the following:

  • Provide faculty with understanding of how what they do intersects with other courses and supports the overall development of student learning
  • Provide students with an understanding of learning expectations and that their learning is cumulative over time
  • Enable meaningful evaluation and actions to improve student learning
Formative assessment Assessments of student learning that are undertaken as students progress through the course or program curriculum. The purpose is to identify areas of learning that need to be improved before the end of the course/program.
Summative assessment Obtained at the end of a course or program to document and determine student learning
Evaluation Evaluation is one or more processes for interpreting the data and evidence accumulated through assessment processes. Evaluation results in decisions and actions regarding program improvement. The assessment cycle that HLC describes includes (1) Assess, (2) Evaluate, (3) Change, if necessary, and repeat.
Sampling For program assessment, sampling is acceptable and even desirable for programs of sufficient size. A sample should be representative of all students.
Co-curricular activities Structured learning activities that complement the formal curriculum, including but not limited to work-based learning opportunities, community involvement, and programs offered through the Student Life office.
Co-curricular outcomes Student learning outcomes that we expected students to gain who participate in co-curricular activities at the college.

Team Members

  • Dr. Todd Butler
  • Christie Hughes
  • Allison Price
  • Heather Ruttkofsky
  • Debbie Schissler