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SLO and Assessment FAQs

What is assessment?

Assessment is any activity or process that instructors use to determine whether or not or to what extent students have achieved the learning outcomes for a course or program. Examples of assessments include exams, papers, or reports that students must write, presentations that they give, projects that they complete, or skills that they must physically demonstrate. Assessment is the activity performed by students and evaluated or judged by the instructor. Assessment answers these questions:

  • How do I know that my students are learning?
  • What evidence have I observed that my students have achieved the learning outcomes?

What is a student learning outcome (SLO)?

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are explicit statements that describe knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes that a student will display upon successful completion of a course, program, or collegiate experience.  SLOs are more than just a memorized body of knowledge or information. Students are expected to be able to do something with the knowledge and information that they gain from their learning experiences.

In addition to course level SLOs, degree and certificate programs also have SLOs known as Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs). PLOs for each program are listed in the program description pages of the College Catalog. PLOs are mapped to the SLOs in the various courses within the program. PLOs are in effect "embedded" in the course-level SLOs. Upon completion of all the required courses for a degree or certificate, students will have attained the PLOs for that program.

A third category of SLOs exists in the General Education program. Students who seek an associate degree are expected to achieve the GE SLOs in addition to the PLOs in their majors. GE SLOs and the COS General Education Philosophy are described in the Degree Requirements pages of the College Catalog. As with PLOs, GE SLOs are mapped to the SLOs in the various courses that have been approved for General Education. GE SLOs are "embedded" in the course-level SLOs.

More facts about SLOs:

  • Only faculty should create SLOs - a part of the curriculum development process, which is the purview of the faculty.
  • All courses at COS must identify SLOs in the official Course Outline of Record. For more information on SLOs in the Course Outline of Record, see the COS Curriculum Handbook.
  • Instructors must list SLOs on their first-day handouts, or syllabi, for each course. The SLOs on first-day handouts must match exactly the SLOs as listed on the official Course Outline of Record.
  • Student achievement of the SLOs should be assessed for each class taught.
  • SLO achievement data is reported in the Outcomes Assessment module in eLumen.

Where do Student Learning Outcomes come from?

Course, program, and general education SLOs are developed by faculty through a collaborative process within programs. SLOs are put in place through the curriculum development process, which is managed by the Curriculum Committee. Course and program-level SLOs are informed by statewide course identification descriptions (C-IDs) for courses and programs. Alignment of local SLOs with the outcomes that are defined in the State's Associate Degrees for Transfer (AD-T) is important and is overseen through the articulation processes of the Curriculum Committee.

SLOs for academic courses and programs are found in the Course Outline of Record.

Why do instructors have to do assessment?

Assessment is an important part of education: it helps instructors and the institution to determine whether the goals of education have been achieved or not. It ultimately affects decisions about placement, curriculum, and grades. Having students demonstrate their mastery and understanding of the subject matter is vital to the learning process. It is essential that instructors assess student learning so that the College can evaluate educational goals, validate the instructional processes of the institution, and determine the extent that the College is achieving its mission. Assessment of student learning also helps the College remain accountable to its constituents, to the communities it serves, to the State, and to its accreditors.

Who is required to do assessment? (Or who is required to assess student learning?)

All faculty, both full-time and part-time, are required to complete SLO assessments for every class that they teach. Instructors should use assessment results to determine students' grades at the end of the course such that a student's passing grade (C or better) reflects achievement of the learning outcomes. Regarding the reporting of assessment results, every instructor must report results of at least one SLO per course each semester. However, one SLO per class per semester is only a minimum. There are many reasons why you might want to report and analyze assessment results of more than one SLO.

If multiple sections of a course are offered in a semester, all instructors of that course should coordinate their assessment plans with each other. Instructors can agree to report assessment results for the same SLO, comparing results in their Program Review conversations; or they can "divide and conquer" by each selecting an SLO of personal interest and thus covering multiple SLOs for a single course. Adjunct instructors should coordinate with their program coordinator (if they have one), with the "lead" instructor in their disciplines, or with their dean if they have neither.

There are many reasons why you might want to assess more than one SLO per course each semester, and there is no reason you can't. One reason why this is important is that during one six-year institutional evaluation cycle, at the time of the comprehensive Program Review, the department and the College should be analyzing student learning data for all SLOs. Also, it is recommended that instructors pick their most important SLOs and assess them every semester so that the department can generate meaningful longitudinal data for reflection during the Program Review process.

How often and when do instructors assess student learning?

Instructors assess student learning throughout a semester, but especially at the end of the semester. Instructors should begin each semester (August and January) by planning their assessment strategies. During the semester, instructors implement the assessments. At the end of each semester (December and May), instructors report their assessment results. These assessment results become some of the data elements that are analyzed in the Program Review process.

How do instructors assess student learning?

It is up to each individual instructor, according to our principles of academic freedom. However, the recommended assessment activities are broadly described in the Course Outlines of Record. If you teach courses that are also taught by other instructors, it is strongly recommended that you coordinate assessment activities with your discipline colleagues.

After deciding on which SLO, or SLOs, to assess, you (and your colleagues) need an "assessment plan." This is just what it sounds like - a plan to assess each SLO. Your plan can be one of two things. The easiest is to use something that you already do. For example, you could identify a question or set of questions on your exam(s) that target that SLO. Then, after you have graded the exam, you go back and calculate how each student did on those questions. Or you can use a single assignment or assessment activity designed specifically for the SLO. Details of the assessment plan should be recorded in the Outcomes Assessment module in eLumen.

As you develop the plan, also consider what level of performance would be considered "successful achievement of the SLO." This is another conversation to have with your colleagues. For the example above, it might be "the student completes 70% of the relevant questions correctly." A skills-based SLO might be simpler - either they demonstrated achievement of what they were to learn, or they did not-yes or no.

How do I report my assessment information?

To be determined (TBD).

What happens to assessment results after I am done?

Hopefully your assessment results provide you, the instructor, with useful feedback on your teaching methods and assignments with regards to student learning in your classes. Your assessment results are recorded in eLumen at the end of each semester. These individual class assessment results are "pulled through" to the annual Program Reviews for summary discussion and planning for program improvements.

What is the timeline for assessment planning and reporting?

For purposes of definition, the academic year runs summer–fall–winter-spring.

Timelines for the Four-Year Program Review
Target date for Completion Process Step
April 1 The Office of Research and Assessment notifies the principal preparer that a four-year program review will be completed in their program in the next academic year.
May 1 Initial meeting called by the principal preparer to begin dialogue, answer questions, identify potential data requests, and student data disaggregation needs. This meeting should include the dean and the researcher assigned the given program review.
July 1 Program Review Data Report made available to principal preparer and all full-time faculty in the area.
September 15 Principal preparer calls a meeting of the full-time faculty and relevant dean or director. At this meeting, the participants shall:
  1. identify additional participants to add to the process and discuss additional data requests for the Office of Research and Assessment
  2. establish timelines for the completion and review of the program review
  3. begin ongoing discussion about their program
This meeting should include the researcher assigned to the given program review.
October 1 The principal preparer shall submit additional data requests to the Office of Research and Assessment
October 2 - December 15 The participants engage in ongoing meetings and dialogue regarding the program, student learning, and planning as well as preparing the program review documents.
December 15 The principal preparer shall submit to the dean or director a copy of the completed program review for review and comment. The dean or director may make comments and suggestions regarding the program review but may not make changes to the program review, unless they are the principal preparer.
December 16 - February 14 Ongoing dialogue and review of the program review draft, comments / suggestions from reviewers and ongoing planning. Changes, if any, are made in a continuous effort to clarify and dialogue about student learning, program effectiveness, and resource allocation.
February 15 Principal preparer will secure the signature of each participant of program review and submit the finalized program review to appropriate Vice President and the Integrated Planning and Budget Committee.
February - May Integrated Planning and Budget, along with College Council, will use the program reviews to inform planning and budget prioritization.