Developing and Implementing an Assessment Plan

An assessment plan details how you will work through the steps of the assessment cycle for the learning outcomes you have identified for your program (or major or department).

Note: Steps 1-5 are generally done once and then revisited as appropriate. Steps 6-9 are repeated each year

1. Define/agree on your program mission

A successful assessment plan begins with a clear program mission that is linked to the mission of the institution as a whole.

2. Establish or revisit student learning outcomes (SLOs)

Student learning outcomes are statements of what you expect students to know and be able to do by the time they complete your program or major.

If your program does not have established student learning outcomes, now is the time to develop them.

If you program already has student learning outcomes, it is worth taking the time to revisit them to determine if they still reflect your current program or if they might need to be revised.

3. Determine "learning opportunities" (i.e., where learning takes place). Curriculum mapping is the recommended strategy for doing this.

Once you have settled on expected student learning outcomes that reflect your current program, it is necessary to map where students actually have the opportunity to gain the knowledge and learn the skills necessary to meet those outcomes. A curriculum map is a matrix or table that demonstrates alignment of instruction with desired student learning outcomes (SLOs).

  • List course outcomes in far left hand column.
  • List SLOs in top row.
  • Indicate where outcomes are introduced (I), reinforced (R), mastered (M), and assessed (A).

Here is a sample curriculum map for a program:

Course 1 I/A I I
Course 2 I I R
Course 3 I R
Course 4 R R/A I
Course 5 R I/A R
Course 6 R R R
Course 7 M/A

Note: Assessment of SLOs can take place at any stage of a student's progression within a program. The number of times an SLO is assessed depends on the focus and context of each program. At minimum, however, it is necessary to assess students' achievement of SLOs at program completion to determine whether they have achieved the targeted SLOs.

4. Identify, select, and/or develop measures for program assessment.

The easiest way to do this is to look at your program map, see where assessment of SLOs is already taking place, and select measures will provide insight into whether students are learning or developing the SLOs. This is called course embedded program assessment. Course embedded assessments can include (but are not limited to) questions embedded in exams, as well as course essays, papers/theses, problem sets, interviews, oral exams, case study reports, presentations, capstone projects, program portfolios, etc. Note: If there are two or more sections of a given course, the course embedded program assessment for that course would be the same for both sections.

Below is an example of how a program might identify its course embedded assessments:


If you look at your curriculum map and determine that your courses do not already contain assessments that adequately capture the SLOs, you will need to design new exam questions and/or assignments for the explicit purpose of providing group level information on the achievement of SLOs associated with your program.

A third option is to identify program assessments that are not course related, such as alumni surveys, employer surveys, commercially available instruments, licensing exams, etc.

At the end of the process, you should have identified at least one measure for each SLO in your program.

5. Create a plan and timeline for examining a subset of SLOs each year.

It is not necessary or realistic to examine and report on every program SLO every year. This would be overwhelming. Rather, it is recommended that you focus on a subset of SLOs each year. Decide on a schedule for the collection and analysis of evidence. Many programs create a multi-year plan in which 1-2 SLOs are assessed each year. Ideally, your plan will enable you to examine data related to all of your program SLOs in a period of our to five years. Some points to consider:

  • Which SLO(s) will be addressed first? Second? Etc.?
  • When will each SLO be assessed?
  • Which faculty members are best equipped or most interested in taking the lead on data collection and data analysis for certain SLOs? (Divide the labor!)

The actual schedule or plan can take a variety of forms. However, here is a simple template.

6. Collect, analyze, and interpret assessment evidence

There is more than one way to collect, analyze, and interpret assessment evidence for the SLO(s) you have decided to examine in a given year.

First, you can gather the data from already evaluated course embedded course assessments from the faculty members who are teaching the course(s). With exam questions, it is essential that the questions are clearly aligned with specific SLOs. Course embedded performance assessments will need to have been evaluated against a rubric that is aligned with your program's SLOs.

An excellent data analysis strategy is faculty to take "a second look" at student work samples from course embedded assessments. This process involves collecting a representative, "clean" (i.e., unevaluated) sample of student work on a program assessment and having faculty assess de-identified work samples against a program rubric that is aligned with the program's SLOs. This process and the discussion that ensues enable faculty to identify student (and program) strengths and areas of challenge, the degree to which students are achieving the SLOs, and areas for improvement.

Another option is to look at data that come from alumni surveys, employer surveys, commercially available instruments, licensing exams. Again it is important to be clear about the SLO(s) to which these assessments align.

It is important to analyze assessment data as a program. As you do this, questions to ask include:

  • What important points seem to "pop out"?
  • What patterns, categories or trends are emerging?
  • What seems to be surprising or unexpected?
  • What have I/we learned from the data?
  • What additional data, if any, is needed?
  • Were all aspects of the SLO(s) satisfactorily achieved?
  • What are some strengths of students in our program (and of our program itself)?
  • What are some "learner-centered challenges" (i.e., skills or knowledge around which Simmons students need the most support) that are evident in the data?
  • How might our program address the learner-centered challenge(s)?

7. "Close the loop." This is the most important step in the assessment process!

Based on assessment results, create and implement an action plan to improve the program and student learning.

  • Decide what to do about the issues suggested by your data; are there new or different things that the discipline thinks would be worth trying that might improve future results?
  • Draft an action plan.
    • If all aspects of the SLOs were satisfactorily achieved, draft an action plan to reassess SLOs at a later time to see if they are still satisfactorily achieved
    • If all aspects of the SLOs were not satisfactorily achieved, draft an action plan to improve student achievement of SLOs; set plan to reassess at a later time to determine if improvement in student learning occurred
  • Actions can range from curricular or pedagogical change to new faculty/staff development or student learning activities, and from comprehensive revision to evidence-based affirmation of current practice.
  • Document team members' roles and responsibilities
  • Figure out how you will measure its success; set goals for student or program improvement
  • Implement the action plan
  • Plan to reassess the SLOs at a later time to determine if improvement in student learning occurred

8. Communicate results.

Document the above process and complete and submit the annual Simmons University Assessment Report to the Simmons University Office of Assessment.

If your program has national accreditation or state program approval and you already submit a similar report to your accreditor or the state on an annual basis, you may submit that report to the Office of Assessment in place of the Simmons University Program Assessment Form. If you do not submit such a report each year to your accrediting body or the state, you must complete and submit the Simmons University report during any year in which you do not complete a report to an accreditation body, the state, or another, similar entity.

The current version of the Simmons University Assessment Report is available here:

9. Evaluate the process; make necessary adjustments

Each year, it is important to review, discuss, and make observations and recommendations about various aspects of the program assessment experience:

  • the learning outcomes that were assessed
  • the assessment instrument
  • the assessment rubric, if one was used
  • the assessment process
  • the assessment results
  • the implementation and outcomes of the action plan

Observations should identify those things that worked well and those things that did not, and in the case of the latter, recommendations should be provided to help address those issues in the future.

If you are uncertain about where to begin your assessment plan, or what steps to take next, you might try using the Program Assessment Plan Flowchart as a guide.

Click to download full sized version.

Adapted from Creating an Assessment Plan Flowchart, Loyola Marymount University


Basic Steps of Program Assessment, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Creating an Assessment Plan, Loyola Marymount University.

PROGRAM-Based Review and Assessment: Tools and Techniques for Program Improvement, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.