Glossary of Assessment Terms

Accountability: The demand by constituents for school officials to demonstrate that money invested in education is being efficiently utilized. This demand is met through measured learning and outcomes assessment. (New Horizons)

Assessment: A continuous process of establishing measureable expected outcomes of student learning and systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well student learning matches goals set by a program or university. (Suskie)

Alternative Assessment: Alternatives to traditional paper and pencil testing for assessment purposes, such as open ended questions on a test, the demonstration of a skill, portfolio assessment, and instructor observation of student progress.(New Horizons)

Benchmark: To collect data for use in comparison to similar data studies. (University of Texas)

Closing the Loop: To use assessment results to improve teaching and learning. (Suskie)

Commission on Colleges (COC): The regional body for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education institutions in the Southern states that award associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. The COC accredits universities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Latin America. (SACS)

Continuous Improvement: Most accrediting bodies require institutional commitment to the concept of quality enhancement through continuous assessment and improvement. The assessment process is considered cyclic. (SACS)

Core Requirements: Basic, broad-based, foundational requirements that an institution must meet to be accredited with the Commission on Colleges. (SACS)

Course Mapping: A tool for course design that helps instructors align the goals and objectives of a course with outcome expectations in accreditation. (Georgia Southern)

Course Level Assessment: Often based on grades resulting from completed course assignments, but also includes reflection on how well the class as a whole achieves the stated outcomes. (Suskie)

Criteria: Standards by which student performance is evaluated; help assessors maintain objectivity and inform students about expectations. (New Horizons)

Curriculum Map: A table that compares key learning goals and course requirements that is used to assess the breadth of learning goals throughout a program’s curriculum. (Suskie)

Embedded Assessment: A means of gathering information about student learning that has been built into a course’s curriculum. Can assess an individual student’s performance or the performance of the whole class. (Leskes)

E-portfolio: A systematic and organized collection of a student's work that exhibits to others the direct evidence of a student's efforts, achievements, and progress over a period of time. The collection should involve the student in selection of its contents, and include assessment or grading information for the projects included in the portfolio. Portfolios are electronic and can be accessed online by the student, school officials, and others who have been granted permission, such as potential employers. (New Horizons)

Formative Assessment: The repetitive gathering of information about student learning throughout a course or program with the purpose of improving student learning from the beginning to the end of the course or program in real-time. (Leskes)

Goals: The general aims or purposes of a program and its curriculum. Goals should be broadly stated, meaningful, achievable and assessable. (California Polytechnic)

Mission Statement: The statement of philosophy and purpose for an organization. The mission answers the question: Why do we exist? (Austin and Pinkleton)

Program Level Assessment: Goals and assessments are broader than those of individual courses but are comprised or built by the courses in which the program encompasses. (Suskie)

QEP: The Quality Enhancement Plan is based upon an analysis of the effectiveness of the learning environment for supporting student learning and accomplishing the mission of the institution through engagement of the academic community. (SACS)

Qualitative Assessment: Comprised of collected data that is not easily quantified mathematically, but rather is subjective in nature and relies on interpretive criteria. (Leskes)

Quantitative Assessment: Comprised of collected data that can be analyzed using objective, mathematical methods. (Leskes)

Reliability: The consistency of a measure, instrument, or observer. A study will have high re-test reliability if it yields similar results when given at least two separate times to the same sample. (University of Texas)

Rubric: A table or grid used in assessment evaluation by comparing actual performance to expected performance standards. (University of Texas)

Standards: Requirements of competency from an accrediting body. Standards set a level of accomplishment that students are expected to meet or exceed. Meeting assessment standards does not imply standardization of programs, rather that students were able to learn certain required skill sets through multiple pathways in a program before graduation. (Leskes)

Student Learning Goal: Goals stated in terms of what students will understand and what they will be able to do as a result of lessons in a course. (Cerbin and Kopp)

Student Learning Outcome: Criteria for determining whether overall program goals are being successfully met and whether students are learning a program’s curriculum to a satisfactory level. (California Polytechnic)

Summative Assessment: The gathering of information at the conclusion of a course or program to improve learning or to meet accountability demands. The results are applied to the next cohort in the course or program. (Leskes)

Triangulation: (a.k.a. multiple measures) Using multiple research methods to gather information or multiple sources of information on a topic usually with the intent of improving reliability and/or validity. (University of Texas)

Validity: The degree to which the theory and information gathered support the interpretations of a measure or an instrument. (University of Texas)

Vision Statement: Articulates the organization’s values and intended contribution to society and shares how the organization should look in the future by presenting the ideal, or an ambitious, long term goal. (Austin and Pinkleton)

The definitions in this glossary were adapted from the following sources:
Austin, E.W. and B. Pinkleton (2006). Strategic Public Relations Management: Planning and Managing Effective Communication Programs, Second Edition. Lawrence Erlbaun Associates, Inc.

California Polytechnic (2006). Assessment Glossary. Retrieved September 2009 from

Cerbin, B. and Kopp, B. (2004-2005). Develop Student Learning Goals. Lesson Study for College Teachers: An Online Guide. Retrieved September 2009 from

Georgia Southern University. (n.d.) Course Mapping. Retrieved September 2009 from

Leskes, A. (n.d.) Beyond Confusion: An Assessment Glossary (Modified by EJC). AAC&U Peer Review, Winter/Spring 2002, Volume 4, Number 2/3. Association of American Colleges and Universities.

New Horizons for Learning (2002). Assessment Terminology: A Glossary of Useful Terms. Retrieved September 2009 from 

SACS Commission on Colleges (2008). Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement. Retrieved September 2009 from

Suskie, L. (2004). Assessing Student Learning: A common sense guide. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.

The University of Texas (1997). Instructional Assessment Resources Glossary. Retrieved September 2009 from