Developing a Departmental Assessment Plan

At some stage – through processes such as accreditation or College Curriculum Council review – your department may be asked to provide evidence as to how and the extent to which students are achieving your established learning goals. The following outline is a brief guide to collecting that information and developing a process for ongoing improvement.

The Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning will be happy to consult on how to gather, synthesize, and report on evidence of the success of your program and its students. If you are interested in such a consultation, please reach out via email to sheridan_center@brown.edu.

1. Review your learning goals for your students.

a.   These goals should outline what students within your concentration will be able to accomplish using the knowledge and skills imparted by your courses following completion of concentration requirements. Examples of learning goals may be found on the Sheridan Center’s website: https://www.brown.edu/about/administration/sheridan-center/teaching-learning/course-design/establishing-learning-goals

b.   Generally, it is helpful if learning goals are maintained in a document that also maps where in the curriculum students will develop the related skills and knowledge (i.e. specific courses or co-curricular opportunities). [Note: Your departmental learning goals should be posted to Focal Point as well as your department’s website, for your reference and to present accurate expectations for students.]

2. Determine where the evidence of student learning will be found.

a. Where are significant assessments of student learning already embedded into the curriculum?

i. What are the major academic artifacts of the concentration? Are there papers/projects/exams that are consistently required of all students at significant points in their academic trajectory? What documentation has been provided of their attainment? Reporting out percentages (i.e. successful completion rates, percentages of students receiving A/B/C grades) provides a rough estimate of student success.

ii. Is there a specific capstone assignment (e.g. a thesis) that is expected to demonstrate all of the learning goals?

1. Such an assignment can be used as an exemplar of student learning attainment in the concentration.

2. You need not review all capstone assignments – a random sample from as few as one fifth to one third of your students may be ample.

3. The work should be evaluated by a group of faculty who tend to teach courses geared toward more advanced/senior students, and have agreed upon the standard (i.e. a rubric; selection of most relevant exam questions).

iii.      Are there specific licensure requirements that your students will need to meet? Reporting out the proportion of students attaining licensure may serve as adequate evidence that your students are meeting external standards for knowledge and skills.

b.   How is the knowledge being used?

i.   Institutional Research[i] and/or CareerLab may provide survey data about near-term employment prospects, graduate school, and future career plans.

ii.   Surveys and/or focus groups can be administered to graduating seniors and/or recent alumni asking them the extent to which specific goals were achieved while they were students. (General reflections on the outcomes of a Brown education are also available through Institutional Research.)

3. Set a schedule for regular review of student learning goals and assessment data.

a.   The year prior to CCC review is an excellent time to start – you may also wish to conduct such a review on a more regular timetable (i.e. every 3-4 years).

b.   Consider constituting a committee of key faculty and departmental staff who can aid in the interpretation of the assessment data (multiple perspectives may add value to determining why students excel in particular areas over others).

c.   When reviewing the data, consider:

i.   Is this evidence effective in speaking to our learning goals? Is there a disconnect between the evidence chosen and the goals?

ii.   Where are students meeting goals? Where do students appear to be excelling/achieving above and beyond expectations? Where are students struggling?

iii.   What are the reasons why certain trends are emerging? Are there particular courses where best practices may be highlighted or improvements made?

iv.   Is there a model case that shows what a typical student or group of students achieves by the conclusion of their degree?

v.   Are there disparities by student demographics? If so, is there evidence as to why? How might the department make student learning outcomes more equitable?

d.  Record and disseminate the results of the review to key stakeholders (i.e. CCC some years, external accrediting bodies others). Content-wise, it is helpful to include:

i. A list of committee members

ii. Departmental mission statement

ii. Student learning goals

iv. The curriculum and how it connects to student learning goals

v. Where the evidence of student learning is retrieved from/why you chose those artifacts

vi. Criteria for rating/reviewing student work

vii. Findings

1. An area of particular success

a. Highlight what contributes to this success

b. Include perspectives from faculty, evidence from students

2. One area for improvement

a. What is the plan for addressing this gap in student learning?

b. What/who are the resources involved?

c. What evidence will be collected that the improvement has been achieved?

Adapted from:

Walvoord, B. E. (2010). Assessment clear and simple: A practical guide for institutions, departments, and general education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


[i] The Office of Institutional Research may also provide long-term information on enrollment, demographics, and students’ academic achievement, compared to the rest of the College.