Program Assessment Frameworks

Assessment within an academic program can be easily organized and implemented by selecting one of the following assessment frameworks as a starting point for the design of the program assessment plan.  

Embedded/Mapped Assessment Framework

In this model of assessment, the curriculum map plays a very important role.  Within the program curriculum map, there should be an indication of which courses are providing an introduction (I) to the learning outcome, reinforcement and practice (R) of the learning outcome, and demonstration of mastery (M) of the learning outcome.  The courses marked M in the curriculum map are the most feasible places to insert program assessment.

This video provides three examples of the embedded model of assessment at UB: Chemical and Biological Engineering, the School of Management, and the Composition Program.

Link to YouTube Video demonstrating how course-level embedded assessment can be used for assessment of program learning outcomes.

The embedded assessment framework will be most useful when the program consists of many common courses that all students must take.  During the meeting to review assessment results with program faculty, the curriculum map will be invaluable for identifying areas for improvement based on those results. 

Milestone Assessment Framework

The Milestones Framework is used when a program is designed to allow for student progress and achievement to be demonstrated at specific milestone points.  This is often the case in graduate programs. A typical master’s program can illustrate the key milestones where program assessments can be inserted:

  • In many programs, students must complete a comprehensive exam.  This would be the first milestone.  Questions on the exam are mapped to the learning outcomes to which they related, and students’ scores on discrete items or item sets are compiled to indicate the percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations and the percentage who did not meet expectations. 
  • The thesis proposal defense may be the next milestone, and a scoring rubric may be used to score the quality of the proposal and the quality of the oral defense.  Again, the rubric items should map back to program learning outcomes, and the rubric scores should be compiled to show which students are meeting or exceeding standards versus those who are not. 
  • Finally, the thesis and the defense would be the final milestone.  Again, scoring the thesis and defense with a rubric that is linked directly to learning outcomes and compiling students into meeting expectations or not meeting expectations will provide detailed knowledge about any gaps that might exist in students’ knowledge and skills.  

A curriculum map can be very helpful when a Milestone Framework is used.  When gaps in student achievement are identified, program faculty can review the curriculum map to determine where any needed interventions should be incorporated (i.e., in the courses or learning experiences marked "I" for introduction to the learning outcome and "R" for reinforcement/practice of the learning outcome).

Although the Milestones Framework is generally most appropriate with graduate programs, it can also be helpful in undergraduate programs where the major courses are made up of many electives.  Since students are not taking the same courses, the program may insert certain types of assignments at particular points of the program to assess knowledge and skills at these critical points.

Capstone Assessment Framework

In the Capstone Framework, the program identifies a culminating course or learning experience in which to assess all of the learning outcomes.  The culminating assignment can be a senior thesis, an internship, or an ePortfolio.  In any of these cases, a rubric would be developed that reflects all of the learning outcomes of the program, and students’ final projects or performances would be scored on this rubric.  The rubric scores would then be compiled to show the number of students meeting or exceeding expectations, as well as the number who are not.  A Curriculum Map can be an important tool to help make course-level revisions based on the results of the rubric scoring.

At UB, the History BA program is assessed using the Capstone Framework.  Students complete a research paper in the senior seminar, and program faculty score each student using a common rubric.  The results of the rubric ratings are then used to identified any necessary program changes.

Combined Embedded/Milestone Framework

In some programs, it is possible that the culminating experience may not address all of the program learning outcomes.  If that is the case, then using the curriculum map to identify courses where these excluded learning outcomes are mastered provides a place where embedded assessments can be used to supplement the results from the milestone assessments.

Combined Embedded/Capstone Framework

In some programs, it is possible that the program capstone may not address all of the program learning outcomes.  If that is the case, then using the curriculum map to identify courses where these excluded learning outcomes are mastered provides a place where embedded assessments can be used to supplement the results from the capstone assessments.

Assessment Methods: Options and Examples

Once the most appropriate assessment framework is selected, the next step is to determine what method will be used to collect assessment data.  Generally speaking, there should be at least one direct assessment method for each learning outcome.  A direct assessment method relies on a sample of student work to provide evidence of learning and achievement.  Direct methods can include homework assignments, lab reports, quizzes, tests, research papers, ePortfolios, etc.

In addition to the direct assessment methods, indirect assessment methods can also be used.  Indirect assessment methods involve measuring student perceptions of learning.  Indirect assessments include course evaluations, student surveys, and focus groups.