Outcomes Assessment Continues to Evolve

Linda Suskie, former head of assessment at Middle States Commission on Higher Education, delivered a half-day workshop on academic outcomes assessment at NMU last week. Each academic department was asked to send at least one representative. Of the 41 participants, more than half were faculty members.


Program learning outcomes assessment evaluates what students have learned throughout their in-major courses, providing important feedback for departments on potential improvements.             

“Assessment in higher education has recently become increasingly important at the state and national levels,” said Sandra Poindexter (Business), AQIP and outcomes assessment coordinator, who organized the workshop.“Outcomes assessment is a maturing process and still developing. It’s only been around for 20 years and has become more sophisticated in the last five.”


According to Poindexter, in order for NMU to proceed to the next level, it is important to demonstrate that results of outcomes assessment are improving programs. The process is not intended to be for reporting purposes only.

Suskie explained how to have more effective rubrics for measuring whether learning outcomes goals are being met. Research and best practices were themes of the workshop subtitled “Are your students learning what you want them to learn?” Suskie told attendees that the standard from 10 years ago may no longer hold true. She said students will benefit most from improved outcomes courses, which can be changed and enhanced regularly with proper attention.

The overall goal of learning outcomes assessment is to be aware of what NMU wants students to learn, how faculty members want them to learn it, how to measure that information and what to do with the data to continuously improve curriculum.


Suskie demonstrated a circular path for faculty to follow to obtain this information (pictured above). It begins with learning goals and progresses to learning opportunities, assessment, using results and then applying the results to begin the cycle again with new goals.


Northern is ahead of the curve on assessing programs learning goals, Suskie said, adding that she sensed a lot of faculty buy-in and understanding. Beyond the morning workshop, she also consulted with small groups, including Academic Senate committees for curriculum, liberal studies and teaching and learning, along with the academic outcomes assessment committee.



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Updated: February 9, 2012

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