Assessment: What Are You Really Measuring?

March 23, 2022 Nikki Kowbel

As you’re fine-tuning your assessment process, it can be helpful to step all the way back and look at how your institution defines measurement.

Measurement involves collecting data to determine whether an outcome is successfully met. It requires designing an instrument that can accurately assess whether a student has achieved milestones within a program or can demonstrate specific skills. The scope of your measurement process can also encompass multiple outcomes.

Do you need both direct and indirect measurements?

You do! Direct measurements provide actual proof of student learning. They include artifacts like essays, exams, or capstone projects, and are often scored with rubrics. Indirect measurements involve other indicators of success like self-reported surveys, sentiment scores, or final grades that include attendance.

Using a 2:1 ratio of direct to indirect measurements helps ensure that your outcomes are actually being met (and a combination of the two is often required by accreditors!). By looking at both direct and indirect measurements, you’re able to get the full picture – for example, if student surveys reflect that course participants feel they learned something (an indirect measurement) but exam results don’t demonstrate this (a direct measurement), you can take a closer look at the course or program content to figure out what went awry.

What are you aiming for?

If 75% of students got 3 out of 5 on a rubric, is that good or bad? Determining what you want to measure is the first step. Next, you have to set clear targets for performance against outcomes. This is similar to having a hypothesis in a scientific experiment: if you aren’t working toward a goal, you won’t know when you’ve hit it. Establishing a benchmark also creates context and helps set expectations, which in turn makes it clear when adjustments are needed (and what they should be).

For quick tips to simplify your measurement strategy, check out Assessment Foundations: Direct & Indirect Measures.

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