Skip to ContentMichigan State University
Students Working on Research
Future Students
Current Students
Parents & Families
Faculty & Staff
Alumni & Donors

Developing the Self-Study
Re-accreditation Overview
Compliance Requirements
Internationalization Self-study
Unit Responsibilities
Providing Unit input to the Process
Examples and Evidence
Providing Input
Unit Example Data Base
The Self-Study Report
Michigan State University
MSU Mission Principles & Guidelines
Program Accreditations
Institutional Data
Higher Learning Commission
Web site of the Higher Learning Commission
Higher Learning Commission overview of Accreditation (PDF file)
Quick Links
Site Map
S150 - MSU Sesquicentennial

Re-Accreditation Self Studies at MSU

Approaches to the Assessment Plan


The following thoughts on assessment plans are offered as guidelines and suggestions for academic units and colleges.  In general assessment plans should focus on student learning outcomes that reflect the values of the academic unit, use multiple measures, and are easily managed.


Reflecting Values 

  • Articulating Goals


The assessment of student learning should center around outcomes that are of value to the department.  Articulating learning goals is answering the question what is it students know and are able to do upon completion of the academic program.  It can sometimes be a challenge for units to agree upon a list of student learning outcomes.  However, assessment programs can be started if agreement can be reached on two or three goals.  Other goals can continue to be identified while assessment activities take place. 

  • Operationalizing Goals


When goals have been articulated, it is then necessary to operationalize them in some way.  For example, if “effective oral communication” is a goal of a program, then a unit needs to decide what that means.  If a student demonstrates effective oral communication skills, what is he or she actually doing in terms of presentation of information and communication style?


Multiple Measures


Determining the methods used to assess student learning outcomes is the decision of the academic units.  However, assessment plans do require the use of multiple measures.  Surveys of student satisfaction are a common and valuable assessment tool.  They provide useful information about what students find to be helpful in their programs, what they did and didn’t like about their experiences, whether or not particular courses were beneficial.  However, these surveys provide academic units with the students’ perceptions of their experiences and are indirect methods of assessment.  Methods which focus on an  actual measurement of student learning are direct methods of assessment.  Assessment plans should include both direct and indirect methods of assessment. 

  • Direct Methods


  • Comprehensive Examinations
  • Writing proficiency Examinations
  • National Examinations assessing subject matter knowledge
  • Graduate Record Exam General Test
  • Graduate Record Exam Subject Test
  • Certification Examinations
  • Licensure Examinations
  • Locally developed pre-test or post-test for subject matter knowledge
  • Senior thesis or major project
  • Portfolio evaluation of student work
  • Capstone courses
  • Audio or Video tape evaluations


  • Indirect Methods


  • Comparison or benchmarking with peer institutions
  • Job placement of graduates
  • Employer surveys
  • Advisory groups from your profession
  • Graduate school acceptance rates
  • Student graduation/retention rates
  • Exit interviews with students graduating or leaving the program
  • Student satisfaction surveys
  • Student course evaluations
  • Focus group discussions
  • Alumni surveys
  • Alumni honors, awards, achievements
  • Analysis of grade distributions
  • Peer review of courses
  • Peer review of program
  • Curriculum/syllabus analysis
  • Community service/volunteerism participation 



        Making it Manageable


Use Existing Practices

An excellent way to approach assessment is to identify already-existing assessment practices.  A good place to begin is with the direct and indirect methods listed above.  Students may already participate in some of these, such as licensure or board examinations, or you might already have a senior exit survey in place.


Another source of assessment material is to review requirements for measuring student outcomes that might already be in existence through another agency.  If your department is accredited by a professional association it is possible you already have some of these elements in place.  If so, use them as part of the assessment plan.  It is not necessary to duplicate efforts in your department.


A third source is to look at already existing academic practices.  Does your unit have a capstone course in place?  If so, it is likely students are producing some final product designed to show a culmination of learning.  Identify the learning outcomes students should be exhibiting in that final product and look at their performances collectively.  A simple rubric can help you organize the data in a way that will allow you to identify patterns in learning.


Do you give multiple choice tests in your courses?  Are there certain questions on your test designed to measure a particular goal of your course?  If so, how students respond collectively to those particular questions could be an important assessment tool.  By clustering the responses to those questions together, you will be able to determine whether or not specific learning goals are being achieved. 


Spread it Out


Assessment is a process and isn’t something that can be completed within six months or even a year.  It is not unusual for departments to develop assessment plans that span over three to five years, with different pieces of the plan being implemented at different times.


If you survey your alumni as part of your assessment plan, you may only want to do that every five years.  You might have an advisory board and perhaps their input on program curriculum could be sought every three years.  It is not necessary to assess every group on every goal every year. 


When establishing your timeline for assessment activities, make sure it includes the time necessary to work with the data you collect.  Allow time for analysis, discussion, and implementation of any changes you choose to make as a result of the information you’ve gathered.  Be sure to build in time to assess the changes also.