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Assessment vs. Evaluation

People commonly use the terms "assessment" and "evaluation" interchangeably, but in fact they generally refer to different processes. We try to use the term "assessment" to refer to assessment of student learning through the use of student learning outcomes, while evaluation (more usefully called program evaluation) can refer to any aspect of how an academic department, ID program, office, or division is doing. The self-study done by a department or ID program to prepare for its external review is a good example of program evaluation, though that example is not meant to suggest that program evaluation should only be done every ten years or only for this reason.

One way to frame the difference between assessment and program evaluation is to say that an assessment project focuses on an area of concern, weakness or difficulty in student learning, whereas a program evaluation project focuses on a topic of interest to the department/program more broadly.

On the academic side, program evaluation can study matters such as:

  • Student satisfaction and other self-reported information about program experiences
  • General curricular content and development
  • Curricular structure and scaffolding
  • Strategies for future faculty hires
  • Administrative staffing needs and functions
  • Disciplinary enrollment issues
  • Interactions with cognate disciplines
  • Capstone structure
  • Mapping of student learning outcomes to courses (related to assessment but can be separated from it)
  • Division of teaching responsibilities; course assignments
  • Program structure (especially for ID programs)

On the administrative side offices and divisions may be concerned with common matters such as "gate counts" (number of students using Tutt Library) or efficiency of office processes. Alternately, they may have program evaluation concerns specific to the unit or division (comparing the amount of money raised across multiple years with the goal of determining the most effective ways to raise money; recruiting a more racially and globally diverse class; improving IT service). In general, administrative program evaluation is concerned with efficiency, effectiveness, and contribution to the College's larger mission and goals. Particularly on the administrative side, program evaluation often involves some variation of a SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) analysis, modified from the business environment as appropriate to an academic environment.

In contrast, assessment of student learning focuses strictly on what students know and can do - not on how satisfied they are, not on their general (or even specific) impressions of a department or program, and not on the academic structure that they encounter. Since the remainder of this website covers the specifics of assessment they are not presented separately here.

Assessment of student learning is not more important than program evaluation; it is simply different in most ways.

There is one point in the assessment process that is functionally equivalent to program evaluation though not usually described this way. Once a department, program, or office has determined where the greatest weaknesses are in student learning in its area it engages in a process of determining why those areas are weak and what it might do to strengthen them. This process resembles other types of program evaluation but is considered part of the assessment process when the topic is learning outcome-driven student learning.

Report an issue - Last updated: 12/17/2020