(Originally posted: Thursday, January 9th, 2014)
Assessment and evaluation can be confusing to people. I have found that a lot of this confusion is usually the result of two things:
1. A lack of clarity about what is being assessed. There is a difference between program goals and learning outcomes. A program goal may be to increase research funding or expand lab space. These items are operational in nature, and indirectly support learning. I suppose a program goal could be a learning outcome, but personally I would separate them. There is a really good paper by Susan Hatfield that touches on this subject. In fact, if you are new to assessment, this is probably the best introduction out there, and it is only eight pages.
2. A lack of clarity about how assessment can be used to evaluate learning. A college degree tells you very little about what someone has learned. I have met several brilliant people who lack college degrees, and vice versa :). An engagement survey, like the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) tells you a little more, but engagement surveys only look at processes that support learning. At other end of the spectrum, an achievement test, like the GRE or NCLEX (nursing exam) tell you a lot about what someone has learned. Here is a framework for thinking about it: