Structure and Vocabulary

UW Colleges Assessment Structure

The mission of the University of Wisconsin System is "to develop human resources, to discover and disseminate knowledge, to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society by developing in students heightened intellectual, cultural and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise and a sense of purpose" Wisconsin Statute 36.01(2). The Wisconsin legislature found "it in the public interest to provide a system of higher education […] which stresses undergraduate teaching as its main priority" WI 36.01(1). In fulfilling the UW Colleges select mission within the UW System, the UW Colleges Assessment Program focuses on undergraduate learning.

We assess student learning outcomes through our academic departments, student co-curricular experiences on the campuses, and the institutional climate. In a process known as "closing the loop," reflection upon assessment results brings about changes that are then folded back into the classroom and curriculum to make for a more successful experience for our students in the future. This process is repeated several times over the course of several years. As a result, the assessment process is ongoing and malleable, and is re-examined and fine-tuned on a regular basis (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The Assessment Process

Assessment in the UW Colleges occurs at many levels: at the academic department level, the campus level, and the institutional level. Each academic department is responsible for assessing student learning outcomes in terms of General Education outcomes and for discipline-specific outcomes. Each department's assessment efforts are led by a department assessment coordinator (DAC) and/or a department assessment committee. Each campus is responsible for assessing the co-curricular experience of students on that campus. Each campus's assessment efforts are led by a campus assessment coordinator (CAC) and/or a campus assessment committee. All of these assessment activities are guided by the Senate Assessment Committee (SAC). Every campus and department submits an annual report to SAC, and SAC meets with the DACs and CACs several times each year. In addition, several institution-wide assessment initiatives are also in place at any given time. The UW Colleges Institutional Assessment Coordinator, a position housed in the Office of Academic Affairs, helps to guide all levels of the UW Colleges Assessment Program.

Use of Assessment Results

The Office of Academic Affairs uses the results in the following ways, for internal institutional purposes only. Any uses beyond those described below must be approved by the Senate Assessment Committee.

  1. Summary of assessment results by department, course, and class. This report is used to inform changes in teaching and curriculum. These summaries are reported to the department assessment coordinators and the Senate Assessment Committee. The Office of Academic Affairs also reports assessment results by division to the campuses for discussion and analysis.
  2. Summary of assessment results by division and across departments. These reports help the department assessment coordinators and the Senate Assessment Committee better understand how the Colleges-wide rubrics are being applied and to see where rubrics may need to be revised to account for discipline-specific variations. These results may also be used to guide planning at the Institutional level.
  3. Summarized comparisons of assessment results to final grades, high school quartile, composite math and verbal ACT scores, and number of credits earned. These reports add more depth to the analysis of assessment data and provide insight into variations in student assessment results across the institution.

UW Colleges Senate policy guides faculty and instructional academic staff in reporting their participation in the UW Colleges Assessment Program on the annually submitted Activity Report. At the same time, Senate policy ensures that assessment results are not included in personnel decisions: "Participation in Colleges-wide and department assessment activities will be expected. Note: Data from assessment activities may not be used when considering merit or promotion" (#503.I.B.5.a)

The Office of Academic Affairs does not include assessment results on the student transcript. (Any changes to the student transcript must be reviewed and approved by the UW Colleges Senate). The Office of Institutional Research does not report any findings by individual student, nor use any student's name or identifier in any report.

UW Colleges Assessment Glossary

Institutional Level Assessment:

  • Proficiencies: the skills that we expect our students to have developed and use by the time they leave the institution. For example, the UW Colleges currently has four proficiencies: Analytical Skills, Quantitative Skills, Communication Skills, and Aesthetic Skills.
  • Performance indicators: the specific means to measure whether or not a student has developed the skill. That is, the performance indicators are evidence that we gather to illustrate a student's mastery of a particular proficiency.
  • Rubrics: assessment instruments that describe the varying levels of skill performance (exceeds, meets, or fails to meet expectations) required to measure individual level of success.
  • Tools: the specific assignments given in which students can demonstrate their skills. The tool created should measure the various levels of skill detailed in the rubric used.

Department and Discipline Level Assessment:

  • Learning objectives or outcomes: knowledge-based information a department asserts the student will acquire based on his or her participation in a class.
  • Rubrics: assessment instruments that describe the varying levels of skill performance (exceeds, meets, or fails to meet expectations) required to measure individual level of success.
  • Tools: the specific assignments given in which students can demonstrate their skills. The tool created should measure the various levels of skill detailed in the rubric used.