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Outcomes assessment examines the quality and effectiveness of academic programs through examination of student learning. This report is an overview of our undergraduate outcomes assessment program since 1989-90.

Our premise is that outcomes assessment should, first and foremost, be useful to CU-Boulder and should help individual academic units
  • evaluate their curricula,
  • plan improvements where necessary, and
  • evaluate the effects of the changes.
In academic year 1987-88 academic units developed formal statements of their knowledge and skills goals for undergraduate majors. In 1988-89, they developed initial assessment plans. Since 1989-90 the units have:
  • implemented their plans,
  • modified their programs, goals, and assessment processes as necessary, and
  • reported what they found and what they did, or were planning to do in response.
The College of Arts and Sciences is responsible for assessing general education, based on CU-Boulder's core curriculum. The Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis (PBA) provides information on undergraduate graduation and persistence rates, and surveys seniors and alumni about post-graduation plans and experiences as well as satisfaction with their CU-Boulder experiences. PBA also coordinates departmental and general education activities. PBA responsibilities were handled by Student Academic Affairs Research Services (SARS) until it merged into PBA in January of 1998.

Academic units' annual assessment reports

Unit reports describe results from many different assessment methods.
  • In the writing skills component of the College of Arts and Sciences' general education program, the University Writing Program collects representative samples of students' initial and final essays for evaluation by a panel of UWRP instructors and outside experts. The evaluators rate characteristics such as the student's ability to state his or her position on the issue that is to be discussed and then to develop the argument. The scores show clear improvement between the pre- and post-tests.

  • The Departments of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Sociology report that their majors' performance on the nationally standardized Major Field Achievement Tests (MFAT) is at or above the national norms for their areas.

  • Each year, 15% of the papers submitted by senior History majors in 3000-level courses are selected for evaluation by three-member subcommittees of the department's undergraduate studies committee. The papers are evaluated on the basis of the department's goals. Approximately half of the papers typically receive ratings in the highest category on scales for the department's knowledge goals.

  • Senior-level students in the College of Engineering and Applied Science taking the Engineer-in-Training exam of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying consistently exceed the national passing rate.

  • In Political Science, a faculty review committee evaluates longitudinal portfolios from a sample of graduating seniors, consisting of papers and essay exam answers drawn from several semesters’ work. In the most recent review, 9 of 12 selected graduating seniors’ skills and knowledge were rated either good-excellent, good, or fair-good.

  • An internship is a capstone activity for most Journalism majors. Each student is rated in areas such as ability to learn, work quality, and career potential by a working professional in the field, most often the executive who directly supervised the student's work. Internship evaluations are consistently high, and the raters' narrative comments are quite positive.

Assessment leads to curriculum change

As the examples of student achievements illustrate, outcomes assessments help units affirm things in their curricula and courses that are going well. They also help identify things that are not going so well, and often suggest the kinds of changes that might be needed. About half of the units doing serious outcomes assessment (and about 40% of all units reporting) have identified areas for improvement. Seniors' performance in some areas may not be up to the faculty's expectations, or other aspects of the data may suggest changes that would strengthen the unit's undergraduate program. Almost all of these units have either acted on this information with changes in the undergraduate curriculum or teaching practice, or have planned future changes. For example:
  • On exit surveys, Chemistry/Biochemistry students reported that they valued hands-on experiences in advanced labs and independent study courses. As a result, more experiments were added in lower-division courses to provide more and earlier hands-on experiences. In addition, the faculty now more vigorously encourage students to do independent study. As a result the number doing independent studies has increased by 60%.

  • Faculty reviews of Theatre and Dance senior seminar essays and results on faculty-developed diagnostic exams showed that students were not as well prepared as faculty expected them to be in theatre history or dramatic literature. The faculty revised the sequence of courses in these areas and now emphasize them in the senior seminar.

  • In response to early assessment results, Classics faculty added more sight-reading exercises in introductory Latin and Greek courses. As a result, translation grades in those courses rose noticeably.

  • The Department of English, disturbed at the number of minor grammatical errors in even the best of student writing, added a writing component to two introductory courses.

Last revision 08/16/13

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