Glossary of Assessment Terms

Use of results for program continuance/discontinuance; the public reporting of student, program or institutional data to justify decisions or policies; using results to determine funding

A certification awarded by an external, recognized organization, that the institution or program meets certain requirements overall or in a particular discipline

The systematic process of determining educational objectives and gathering, using and analyzing information about student learning outcomes to make decisions about programs, individual student progress or accountability

A criterion-referenced objective performance datum that is used for comparative purposes. A program can use its own data as a baseline benchmark against which to compare future performance. It can also use data from another program as a benchmark. In the latter case, the other program often is chosen because it is exemplary and its data are used as a target to strive for, rather than as a baseline.

Cognitive Development
Development explained through sequential stages in which individuals encounter problems or ideas which cause cognitive conflicts that demand the individual to accommodate or change his or her way of thinking to become more complex

A group of study subjects, selected based on predetermined criteria, who are followed over a period of time

Comparative Data
Data from two or more similar groups that have been exposed to different conditions of the independent or intervention variable

The demonstration of the ability to perform a specific task or achieve a specified criteria

Confounding Variable
An uncontrolled variable that systematically varies with the independent variable

Direct Assessment
Direct measures of student leaning require students to display their knowledge and skills as they respond to the instrument itself. Objective tests, essays, presentations and classroom assignments all meet this criterion.

Focus Group
A carefully planned discussion to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, nonthreatening environment; it is conducted with approximately seven to 10 people by a skilled interviewer.

An assessment used for improvement (individual or program level) rather than for making final decisions or for accountability

Measures for individuals or organizations that provide information about measurable traits, situations, knowledge, skills, performances, resources, inputs, outputs

Indirect methods such as surveys and interviews ask students to reflect on their learning rather than to demonstrate it.

The personal, background and educational characteristics that students bring with them to postsecondary education that can influence educational outcomes

Data collected on the same individuals over time for use in a study that investigates development, learning or other types of change in individuals over time

An item type used on objective measures allowing respondents to indicate their level of agreement with a statement by marking their responses on a five-point scale, usually ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree

The systematic investigation of people’s attributes

A systematic way of compiling results across studies in order to clarify the findings in an area of research

Mixed Methods
Researchers’ use of both quantitative and qualitative data collection and data analysis techniques

An interpretation of scores on a measure that focuses on the rank ordering of students – not their performance – in relation to criteria

The specific knowledge, skills or attitudes that students are expected to achieve through their college experience; expected or intended student outcomes

The specific knowledge, skills or developmental attributes that students actually develop through their college experience; assessment results

A small, scaled-down study designed to test the validity of measures and manipulations of a planned full-scale study. A pilot can also refer to the initial administration of new assessment items/procedures with the intent of evaluating and revising the items/procedures for future use.

The measurement of a dependent variable, which occurs after an intervention, usually for the purpose of comparing to a pretest measure on the same dependent variable

The measurement of a dependent variable prior to an intervention, usually for the purpose of comparing to a posttest measurement of the same dependent variable

Data in which the values of a variable differ in kind (quality) rather than in amount

Data in which the values of a variable differ in amount rather than in kind

Random Sample
A sample drawn from the population such that every member of the population has an equal opportunity to be included in the sample

The consistency, precision and dependability of measurements

A scoring tool that lists the criteria for a piece of work, or “what counts” (for example, purpose, organization and mechanics are often what count in a piece of writing); it also articulates gradations of quality for each criterion, from excellent to poor.

A sum total or final product measure of achievement at the end of an instructional unit or course of study

The degree to which a test or other assessment measure measures what it is designed to measure

The effects educational providers have had on students during their programs of study. The impact of participating in higher education on student learning and development above that which would have occurred through natural maturation, usually measured as longitudinal change or difference between pretest and posttest; a comparison of the knowledge, skills and developmental traits that students bring to the educational process with the knowledge, skills and developmental traits they demonstrate upon completion of the educational process

Source: James Madison University’s Online Dictionary of Student Outcome Assessment​