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What is Assessment

The term “assessment” may be defined in multiple ways by different individuals or institutions. ESU’s Guide to Program and Departmental Assessment Handbook developed by the Program Assessment Workgroup of the University Assessment Committee states:

“An assessment system is typically defined as the process of collecting, synthesizing, and interpreting information to aid in educational decision making – and assessment is an umbrella term for the comprehensive process of measurement and evaluation. Within an educational system, assessment should be viewed as a systematic collection and analysis of information for the main purpose of improving student learning and performance.

Although many individuals in higher education focus primarily on assessments related to student knowledge and performance, assessment is also critical to evaluating and improving such areas as the learning and living environment, student engagement, student retention, and any area that supports the university mission, goals, and operations.”

As indicated above, assessment is a process, not a result. It is an integral part of instruction, and it affects decisions about placement, instructional needs, curriculum, program utility, systems change, institutional improvements, recruitment, accountability, and in some cases funding. This page is meant to provide a brief background on assessment. Please visit OIEPA's Resources Page for more help in beginning or improving your assessment processes.

Why is Assessment Important?

Assessment and the information it generates are useful for a variety of reasons, most of which fall into four broad categories: teaching and learning; program improvement; recruitment; and accountability.

Assessing to Improve Teaching and Learning

It is crucial for helping people learn:

  • Good assessment mirrors good instruction
  • It is continuously part of the curriculum
  • It provides information about the levels of understanding students are reaching
  • Students acquire skills more rapidly when provided with timely and informative feedback

It helps faculty become better teachers:

  • When it comes to assessment, the best college teachers begin with what students should be learning, rather than what the teacher will do.
  • It is completed with systematic program based on primary learning objectives to assess both student and faculty efforts and abilities that lead to appropriate changes.
  • Assessment is designed to look at deep learning, and at the intellectual and personal development of students, and great college teachers understand this

Assessing for Program Improvement

  • Assessment helps program faculty identify areas of improvement for the program by showing them the actual impact the program has on students.
  • It brings faculty together to discuss important issues regarding what they teach, how, why, and their standards and expectations.
  • It helps link courses together to form coherent program structures, which helps faculty how what they teach contributes to student success throughout a program.
  • Assessment results can be used as evidence of quality teaching and solid program design, which can improve recruitment and retention efforts.

Assessing to Improve/Increase Recruitment

  • Good assessment provides parents, potential students, and other stakeholders with evidence of the value of a program or institution.
  • Assessment can also be used to convince donors, employers, and/or legislators to invest time or money in your program or institution.
  • Both qualitative and quantitative data can be used to increase or improve recruitment, as both provide valuable insight into student performance and attitudes.

Assessing for Accountability

  • Assessment meets university annual program reporting and review requirements
  • It addresses accrediting agency evaluation, reporting, and/or funding requirements
  • It helps establish the legitimacy of the institution’s educational activities, faculty, and staff
  • Good assessment results prove the cost effectiveness of a program or institution in the face of increased government, legislator, and other funding constraints


Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Jacobi, M., Astin, A., & Ayala, F. (1987). College Student Outcomes Assessment: A talent development perspective. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 7. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education.

Pellegrino, J. W., Chudowsky, N., & Glaser, R. (Eds.). (2001). Knowing what Students Know: The science and design of educational assessment. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing Student Learning: A common sense guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.