Outcome and Assessment FAQ

An SLO, or Student Learning Outcome (SLO), is essentially a goal that you set for both your students and yourself. What do you expect your students to have learned by the end of the semester, and what can they do with that knowledge? What are the primary things that you want to teach them? These are your SLOs. Think of an SLO as if completing this sentence, "Upon completion of this project/class/program/degree, the student should be able to..." Such SLOs can be put into play at multiple levels.

Assignment-level SLOs

What is the purpose of the assignment? What particular skills or knowledge does it attempt to measure? How does it relate to the overall content and themes of the course? 

Course-level SLOs (SLOs)

What is the purpose of the course? What particular skills or knowledge does it attempt to communicate? What do you expect students who complete the course to have learned? How does this relate to the overall content and purpose of your Program? 

Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs)

What is the purpose of your Program? What skills or knowledge do you expect students who take multiple courses in the Program to come away with? What are the consistent themes that carry over from course to course? How do these themes relate to our Institutional goals? 

Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

What is the purpose of the College? What skills or knowledge should every Chabot graduate have acquired while attending classes here? These are addreesed in five broad areas:

  1. Critical Thinking
  2. Communication
  3. Civic & Global Engagement
  4. Information & Technology Literacy
  5. Development of the Whole Person

From Cabrillo College: "A Student Learning Outcome is different from a course objective. SLOs for the classroom describe the knowledge, skills, abilities or attitudes that a student can demonstrate by the end of your course." 

From Skyline College: "Student Learning Outcomes are the degree to which students are learning what is intended for them to learn, whether on the course, program, or institutional level." 

From Oxnard College: "A student learning outcome is a statement of expectation that articulates what students will know, do, or feel as a result of a 'treatment' where what students have learned is assessed, documented, and used for improving learning."

From Diablo Valley College: "A student learning outcome is a statement of what a learner is expected to know, understand or be able to do as a result of a learning process. The intended educational outcomes must be consistent with the institutional mission."

When drafting Title V compliant course outlines, you are asked to list "Expected Outcomes," which can be thought of as the main topics that will be addressed by the course. This list must be exhaustive enough to meet the requirements of equivalent classes at UC and CSU so that our course will articulate. This can be thought of as the "microcontent" of the class: the specifics of what faculty are expected to cover when teaching a particular course.

SLOs operate at the "macro" level, in that they ask you to address the bigger picture. They shift the emphasis from the specifics of what is being taught to the generality of what has actually been learned. For example, if you are teaching your daughter to put on her seatbelt, adjust her mirrors, start the car, put on her turn signal, turn her head to look behind her and then pull out of the parking spot, then she is learning to drive.

SLOs versus Course Objectives - While Course Objectives "think about content or coverage," SLOs "consider what students should be able to DO with what they've learned by the end of the semester."

From Skyline College: "The key difference between objectives and outcomes is the shift in focus from what we teach to what we expect students to learn and ideally master. Lisa Brewster of Miramar Community College, which recently underwent accreditation, cited the following example from a career course. One objective is for instructors 'to provide students with opportunities to develop their leadership skills."

The outcome, on the other hand, is for students 'to develop leadership, organizational, and interpersonal skills, and be able to express them in a job interview.' Note that this outcome example also provides a context for learning and moves toward a means to evaluate the student's performance. In short, SLO's demonstrate the extent to which student performance meets expectations of learning."

SLOs use active words to demonstrate the degree to which students are internalizing the lessons of their coursework. According to Bloom's Taxonomy, the greater the level of abstraction to which students can demonstrate their newly acquired knowledge, the more thoroughly the knowledge has been acquired.

If you want your students to acquire and demonstrate one of the skills listed in Bloom's Taxonomy -- Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation. Always defer to the higher level of cognition, it includes the lower. It is good to keep in mind that as the information available in today's global citizenship explodes, the rote memorization of facts becomes less meaningful, and the application, synthesis, and reframing of what is learned becomes more relevant. 

Here are samples from different disciplines.

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

AMERICAN HISTORY - Demonstrate knowledge of a basic narrative of American History: political, economic, social, and cultural, including knowledge of unity and diversity in American society. (SUNY Brockport, NY)

ANTHROPOLOGY - Forensic Anthropology: Using the basic principles of forensic anthropology, analyzeskeletonized human remains to determine sex, age at death, height and genetic ancestry. (Cabrillo College, CA)

ATHLETICS - Preseason Intercollegiate Water Polo - Men: Analyze and customize principles of cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility to water polo, and apply them to prevent injury. (Cabrillo College, CA)

ART HISTORY - Given two paintings – each from a different historical period – determine which period each is from, describe how imagery is used in each, and contrast how each reflects the cultural norms of the period. (Miami University, OH)

CHEMISTRY - Students will identify a suitable research question, design an appropriate experimental procedure to resolve the question, carry out the experiment, and report the results in a format appropriate for a scientific journal. (Miami University, OH)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE - Describe the principles of community-based policing and apply them to given situations. (California Assessment Institute)

DANCE - Street Dance and Hip Hop: Perform, with an increasing degree of proficiency, simple Hip Hop movements, demonstrating increasing control of skills pertaining to memorization, physical safety, body awareness, alignment, and aesthetic valuing. (Cabrillo College, CA)

GEOLOGY - Analyze how the earth's oceans are a part of the earth's systems from geological, chemical, biological and physical perspectives. (Miami University, OH)

MATH - Given a geometric system, students will determine what algebraic properties apply to this system. (Miami University, OH)

PHOTOGRAPHY - Manually operate a 35 mm camera to create original photographs applying principles of exposure and development of black and white photographic films and papers with concepts of composition and design, aesthetics and content. (California Assessment Institute)

SPEECH - Organizeoutline and deliver well-researched speeches to inform and persuade that are tailored to a specific audience. (California Assessment Institute)

THEATER - Intro to Acting: Selectanalyze, and perform selections from dramatic texts utilizing the performance skills of memorization, vocal projection, spatial awareness, stage directions and physical expression. (Cabrillo College, CA)

If you set a goal, you need to have a way of determining whether or not it has been met, and to what extent; this is the purpose of assessment. Further, if you determine that your goal has not been met, you are now in a better position to change your strategy to attempt or assure success the next time. You might find curricular revision, new pedagogical approaches, or even revision to your CLO to be in order.

The primary rule to be applied when formulating SLOs is that they must be assessable; there must be some way to measure student success in achieving those goals. The difference between grading and assessment is that in grading you factor in all the outcomes, plus maybe criteria such as whether the assignment was turned in late, and average them for a grade for that one student. In outcomes assessment you keep the layers of outcomes separate, so that you can see how the whole class/program/college is doing on a particular outcome.

When outcomes are specified within a particular assignment that already exists in the course, this is called embedded assessment. You could select five multiple choice questions which exist in your test to measure a specific outcome. 

When outcomes are measured through a student actually applying the learning in a real-life experience such as doing a dance step or tuning a car engine, this is authentic assessment. This form of assessment is highly desirable, in fact WASC needs to see this, as in the past colleges relied too heavily on off-the-shelf large-scale tests.

When an outcome is measured through a student satisfaction survey or an in class-poll, this is called indirect assessment. It might also be referred to as qualitative assessment, as it takes a narrative, and not numerical, or quantitative form.

As no assessment practice is truly statistically irrefutable, the more and varied approaches we use, the healthier our process. When different measurements come to the same conclusions, this is called triangulation. Assessment is action research, not experimental research. It does not have the precision, rigor, or generalizability of the latter. However, as many faculty can attest, through the feedback loop to students, the experimentation with crafting new learning experiences, and the discussions with colleagues, it does serve to improve learning.

When you formulate your course-level SLOs, ask yourself which exams or assignments you have been using to assess them. Do you assign a final essay with the expectation that students will necessarily refer to certain points of information from their studies? Do you administer a final exam with sets of questions that test different areas of the coursework covered? Do you evaluate a final project by looking for certain criteria to be fulfilled?

The essay, exam, or project is the assessment tool, and recognizing the criteria by which you judge it is the first step toward constructing a rubric.

A rubric is a measurement scale you make up for yourself when you set out to grade an exam or assignment. Ask yourself what skills or knowledge you would like your students to demonstrate in that assignment, how you know the students have achieved this outcome at a beginning, developing, competent, and accomplished level. Chabot has adopted four point analytic rubrics for our CLOs, the gold standard of rubrics! These actually make our SLOs clearer to us.

You can break down your CLO into several criteria for measurement areas, and write a rubric for each, or write one rubric for each CLO. Often several CLOs will factor into a culminating student experience.

You can now use your rubrics in other very effective ways beyond the evaluation of the SLOs on your own. You can develop agreed upon rubrics with your other faculty, and align your teaching practices somewhat or learn from one another.

Students learn better when they know what they are learning, and how they will be evaluated, why they are learning it, and how they will apply it to their future work and lives. Share your rubrics with them at every assignment! Give them multiple opportunities for improvement throughout the course by giving them formative feedback, through the use of your rubrics. Consider having them assist you in creating assignment rubrics, as students often display very high standards for themselves. Also, your grading policies will not only be transparent to your students, but they will also be more consistent.

You could have an agreed upon set of outcomes with rubrics that your discipline uses for outcomes assessment. You could expand it for your own use in grading if you value additional skills. Grading assignments and papers will now go a lot faster.

This is perhaps the most important question. In his book "US Accreditation and the Future of Quality Assurance" (2008), Peter Ewell outlines the history of the dual movements, assessment for learning, and assessment for accredibility: "Other nations have caught up to and in some cases surpassed US degree attainment rates at a time when possessing a college degree is more important than ever...The so-called "assessment movement" in US higher education, aimed at gathering systematic evidence about student learning outcomes, began in the mid-1980s in the wake of several prominent curricular reform reports..." With pressure growing from the US government to account for high student loan default rates, an increasing distrust of the American public for institutions of higher education, and the opaque peer review processes of the regional accreditors, we have been asked to show evidence of institutional effectiveness based on outputs, or evidence of student learning. 

At the same time, educators since the mid 1980's have increasingly understood and embraced the enhanced practices of measuring and improving student learning that assessment affords. It is in fact a natural process for us to assess and provide feedback to our students, and them to us, so that we may both continue to evolve and improve. Assessment for learning is the slowing down of this process, so that we main gain more insights into how to improve learning. These two assessment practices have become entwined such that the accreditors themselves value student learning and authentic assessment above everything else, and so should (and do) we.

The pages at the left for SLOs, PLOs, and assessment contain a lot of good material for this work. If you're stuck at writing SLOs and rubrics, or have any other questions regarding outcomes, rubrics, and assessment, contact Julie Coan or your OAC Committee Representative.