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Academic Assessment at Calvin College

Student learning and assessment

The primary purpose of Calvin College is to promote student learning. Assessment is the process of collecting information about student learning in order to make decisions about how to improve it.

This assessment website is intended to give departments and faculty members help in implementing effective assessment processes. It includes a basic outline of the assessment responsibilities of each program as well as several examples of “best practices” across the college.

Besides this website, departments are welcome to consult at any time with the dean for institutional effectiveness or any member of the assessment committee.

The assessment committee has found the book Assessment Clear and Simple (April 2010, Jossey-Bass) by Barbara Walvoord to be very helpful for understanding how to implement an effective assessment program efficiently. Much of this website is informed by that book. Copies of that book for loan to departments are available from the office of the dean for institutional effectiveness.

The three steps of assessment are:

  1. Every program should have clear goals for student learning. (When students complete our program, they will be able to…)
  2. Programs should regularly gather evidence that students are meeting the goals.
  3. This evidence should be used for improving the program.

Goals for student learning

Every program should have goals for its graduates. These goals (often called student learning outcomes or SLOs) should identify the knowledge, skills, and virtues expected of each graduate. These goals should be stated in a way that they are measurable.

It is not necessary that these goals describe every possible outcome or objective of the program. Ideally, programs will identify the most important goals and concentrate on assessment of these. For many programs, four to six goals will be appropriate.

It is of course important that the curriculum is aligned with the goals. For example, the program proposal template from EPC requires a curricular map – a chart indicating which program requirements are principally responsible for each goal.

Just as every program should have goals, each course should also have specific and measurable outcomes for student learning. These outcomes should be aligned with program goals and, if the course is a core course, with the goals of the core category that it satisfies. Every course syllabus should include the student learning outcomes of each course.

examples and guides:

  • Writing student learning outcomes (coming soon)
  • Examples of program goals from Calvin programs (coming soon)
  • Examples of program goals from other institutions (coming soon)
  • Examples of curricular maps (coming soon)

Evidence of student learning

For each course and program goal, there should be several ways to measure whether students are achieving those goals.

At the course level, the evidence of student learning is normally found in the work that students do for the course. In fact, the course goals are often a good starting point for choosing assignments and for deciding how to evaluate the work of a student. The template for a course proposal to EPC asks proposers to describe the ways that course goals will be measured.

example – mapping course goals to student activities

Gathering evidence concerning program goals takes more planning as individual goals are often addressed in several courses and there are often multiple possible paths through the curriculum. However it is often possible to use course-level work to assess program level goals. For example, a capstone course provides a natural venue for such assessment. Any course that is taken by every major is a potential site for such course-embedded assessment.

example – using the capstone course to assess program level goals

Many programs can gather most of the evidence that they need using such course-embedded assessment. However there are a variety of other tools that are quite common. Some examples include:

  • Nationally normed standardized tests
  • Locally developed tests
  • Portfolios of student work
  • Review by external experts
  • Surveys

Online assessment resources

Brigham Young University (
BYU's Center for Teaching & Learning maintains an extensive site focused on student learning outcomes. The site's collection is organized by college, by Department, and by program.
NC State Office of Assessment (
North Carolina State University's Office of Assessment provides information on getting started with assessment, developing a culture of assessment, and assessing the first year. The site also includes an comprehensive collection of resources entitled, "Internet Resources for Higher Education Outcomes Assessment."
Texas A&M University (
Texas A&M's Office of Institutional Assessment maintains resources such as assessment rubrics, models for direct and indirect measures, and guides for writing student learning and program outcomes.