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Levels of Assessment


Assessment occurs at many levels throughout the college. We have goals for student learning at the college level, at the program level, at the course level, and at the section level. We have goals for particular classroom activities and we have goals for out-of-class experiences. Faculty members are probably most familiar with assessment that takes place at the section level, within a particular classroom of students. For example, a faculty member might want students to learn a new concept for a particular class day. At this level, assessment might include a number of activities, including:

  • observing students’ nonverbal behavior
  • asking students questions during class
  • assigning an individual or group activity
  • developing test or quiz questions about the new concept
  • surveying students’ level of understanding
  • soliciting questions from students
  • using a classroom assessment technique (CAT) to measure understanding

These are great forms of assessment and they will give the faculty member important feedback about that day’s goal for this group of students. However, this level of assessment will not tell us about how students do in the course, as a whole (we only have information from one section on one day), nor how students do in their programs. To assess our progress at these levels, we must work more collectively to find out how our students are doing as they progress through courses, through their programs, and through the college.

The levels of assessment are depicted in the diagram below. Each level represents a different level of analysis, with a different set of goals. But it is important to remember that these different sets of goals are interrelated with overlapping purposes connected to the college mission.

Figure 2: The Levels of Assessment

Figure 2
The most general level of learning goals exists at the college level. These goals are directly related to the college mission and vision statements and should be reflected in everything the college does (from classes and courses to athletics, food service, and facilities maintenance). Program-level goals define learning outcomes for students who complete an academic program. Course-level goals (or learner outcomes) define our expectations for what students learn by completing a particular course, regardless of who is teaching the course. Class-level goals are the most specific. These goals reflect our expectations for a specific group of students participating in a particular class experience during a specific time frame.

The class level is listed as the “lowest level,” because it is the most basic level of analysis. In terms of action, however, this level is very important, because this is where direct faculty-student interaction takes place. This faculty-student interaction should serve goals at each level of analysis, including:

  • the learning goals for a particular section as defined in the syllabus
  • the learning goals for the course as defined in the common course outline
  • the learning goals for the programs linked to a particular course
  • the learning goals for the college as a whole as defined in our Guiding Principles

Thankfully, we are not aiming to measure every goal in every section of every course all of the time because that would be unrealistic. A reasonable assessment program relies on samples of potential assessment data, collected at strategic points, so that we end up with a reliable snapshot of each of our programs on a regular basis.

To illustrate the levels of assessment, examples of assessment are given in two tables below. The first table shows how goals are documented at each level and illustrates how assessments can be planned to serve goals at more than one level of analysis.

Table 1—One Assessment over Four Levels of Analysis

Level Documentation Example
Section Level Syllabus ENGL 1121-02 students, taught by Professor Simpson, write an essay on popular culture in America, which Professor Simpson has identified as a theme for this section, this semester.
Course Level Common Course Outline Members of the English faculty share copies of student essays to determine whether course outcomes were met.
Program Level Program Goals Faculty members who teach courses listed in Area 1 of the MnTC score essays using a rubric designed to measure MnTC competencies.
College Level Guiding Principles Faculty members score essays using a rubric designed to measure the Guiding Principle “Effective Communication.”

The second table lists a few more examples of types of assessments that could be performed at various levels of analysis. Some of these examples are based on assessments actually performed at Anoka-Ramsey, while others are hypothetical. This list of examples is not meant to be exhaustive because there are countless ways to assess students and some of the best are original and creative.

Table 2—Examples of Assessment at Four Levels of Analysis

Level Examples
Section Level
  • Using a test, paper, or presentation to gauge how well students are learning key concepts.
  • Using an end-of-class assessment to find out whether the key points from today’s class were clear.
  • Using a satisfaction survey following a non-credit seminar to measure students’ perceptions of their learning.
  • Using a survey following a student club activity to find out how students benefited from the activity.
Course Level
  • Faculty members teaching BUS 1104 review the final papers in their classes and decide to increase the amount of time devoted to formatting documents.
  • Faculty members teaching English 1121 get together to review their students’ papers and to plan changes in the 1121 curriculum for the following semester.
  • Faculty members teaching BIOL 1106 compare student lab reports on five essential criteria and determine that students need more work in the area of drawing scientific conclusions.
  • Faculty members teaching ECON 1100 use a standardized economic literacy test to evaluate the course and to plan changes.
Program Level
  • Students completing the PTA program are evaluated on 20 core clinical skills to assess whether students are achieving program goals.
  • Students who are near completion of the MnTC are assessed through a writing portfolio to determine how well they are meeting the competencies for written communication.
  • Students completing the Master Certificate in Microsoft Office through CE/CT take a certification exam to assess whether they have met program goals.
  • Students complete a survey on campus climate and student engagement to assess how well we are achieving our goals in the student services area.
College Level
  • Students are evaluated at the beginning, middle, and end of their educational program to assess critical thinking skills.
  • Students complete a survey on campus climate and student engagement to assess how well the college is fostering an environment of cultural diversity.
  • Students participating in clubs are surveyed to assess the degree to which their club participation enhances their ability to communicate.
  • Recent graduates are surveyed about their experiences at ARCC and the extent to which the college enhanced their ability to learn.

Next Topic: Program Assessment