Skip to Main Content

Office of Academic Assessment

Information on equity-minded assessment of student learning at Emerson, including resources, programming, and reports.

The Assessment Cycle

The Assessment Cycle: (1) Set Learning Goals
 - What will students be able to do as a result of completing this course?

Adapted from: Gilchrist, D. & Oakleaf, M. (2012). An essential partner: The librarian's role in student learning assessment. NILOA Occasional Paper, 14.

The Assessment Cycle outlined here is iterative and versatile. You can use it to plan out a single assignment, a unit, or an entire course. It also mirrors the steps we take when conducting assessment at the programmatic and institutional levels.

In the illustration above, the Assessment Cycle is broken into six individual steps. Each step is intended to help you understand what students are learning and help them to achieve meaningful learning.

Step 1: Set Learning Objectives

Following the principles of backwards design, everything starts with learning objectives. The same is true for assessment: you need to determine what you want to assess first and then design assignments, activities, program requirements, etc. that will allow you to see if students are achieving your learning objectives. Here are some questions to consider when designing your student learning objectives:

  • What do you want your students to be able to do as a result of completing your course/program?

Step 2: Define Criteria for Success

Simply put, if students were to achieve success on a given task/in a degree program, what would success look like? Other questions to consider:

  • How will you know if students have met the learning goals?
  • What standards of success will you use?

Step 3: Take Action

This step is where you outline your course activities. Plan out how you intend to aid students in achieving the learning goals of the course. Questions to consider:

  • What steps will students need to take in order to achieve learning goals successfully?
  • What will you do to help get them there?

Step 4: Gather Evidence

In this step, you define the information you need to collect and review to see if students are learning what you intend for them to learn. Essentially, this is where you plan out your assignments, quizzes, program requirements, etc. Questions to consider: 

  • What data or information needs to be gathered to show student learning?
  • How and when will you gather this data?
  • How will the data be documented?

Step 5: Analyze the Evidence

Once the data is gathered, compare it against your criteria for success listed in Step 2 of the Assessment Cycle. Questions to consider: 

  • What can you learn from the data you have gathered?
  • Are your current activities, assignments, and/or requirements helping students achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Do all students, regardless of identity, have the same opportunities to achieve your desired outcomes?

Step 6: Make Changes

This is the last step in the Assessment Cycle! But remember, it is an iterative cycle so in some ways this step becomes the first step. Having analyzed your data, consider any changes you might need to make as you move forward. Perhaps your learning goals need to change. Perhaps the classroom activities you planned didn't resonate with students. Perhaps a program requirement is missing or no longer serving its original purpose. Other questions to consider: 

  • What changes need to happen based on your analysis?
  • What is working well that needs to be nurtured?
  • What isn't working that can be retooled?

Closing the Loop

You may also hear Step 6 referred to as "closing the loop." If you work through assessment and discover that students are not meeting your criteria for success, don't panic! This assessment cycle will provide you with the information you need to make changes and then "close the loop" by repeating the assessment cycle to determine whether or not those changes were successful.

At the course level, the duration of an assessment cycle may be very short: you may be able to see quickly that students aren't meeting a particular goal, allowing you to adjust aspects of your course as needed.

At the program level, the duration of an assessment cycle may be much longer, as the department evaluates student learning for each objective, or each program requirement, based on the department's overall assessment cycle.