Office of Educational Assessment

Assessment at UW

“Imagine…a kind of institutional research that asks…What are our students really learning? What do they understand deeply? What kinds of human beings are they becoming – intellectually, morally, in terms of civic responsibility? How does our teaching affect that learning, and how might it do so more effectively?”

– Pat Hutchings and Lee Shulman, 1999

Assessment of student learning is always an iterative process beginning with the identification of student learning goals, followed by development and delivery of instruction to help students meet those goals, the design and implementation of multiple methods for assessing students’ performance and experience, and the use of assessment results to inform change. Whether at the level of the classroom or the institution, the essence of this feedback loop is unchanged.

At the UW, we believe that good assessment of learning in college attempts to capture the full range of learning and the depth of the college experience inside and outside the classroom. It includes assessment of co-curricular activities and resources, students’ perceptions of their experience, rates of retention and completion, and student learning. It is also “authentic” assessment, reflecting actual student learning because the assessment process is integrated into the normal academic life of students and faculty, rather than being an extraneous “add-on”. This approach to assessment conforms to acknowledged principles of good assessment practice.

Because learning varies across the disciplines, assessment that can inform curricular change and improve student learning must be primarily the work of experts in those disciplines – our faculty and departments. At the UW, therefore, this means that institutional assessment of student learning is a bottom-up inferential process, rather than a top-down deductive and prescriptive one. As the figure below illustrates, the process begins in the classroom, moves through departmental assessment of majors, informs the colleges in which those departments reside, and finally, gives us a picture of how well all our students are learning.

Institutional Assessment at the University of Washington

The reliance on the expertise of the faculty, the integration of assessment into normal everyday academic life of the UW, and the inductive nature of institutional assessment are the basic precepts of assessment of learning at the UW.

Source: Hutchings, P. & Shulman, L. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change 31(5), 10-15.