var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-48720098-1']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']); (function() { var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true; ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + ''; var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s); })();

Assessment of Student Learning

 Evaluating Educational Effectiveness in the Twenty-First Century


At Cal Poly, we see assessment as an essential feature in the university's commitment to excellence through continuous improvement. It is the main avenue by which we evaluate our student's achievement of learning outcomes. Together with Academic Programs and Planning staff, specifically under the leadership of the Director of Academic Assessment, we develop and organize a comprehensive assessment plan each year that supports university, college, and department assessment projects.

As part of our Learn by Doing philosophy, we recognize that students show their mastery of a skill in various ways. We feel that is is essential to capture authentic, high-impact work that students complete in the classroom: speeches, portfolios, research-based reports, and group projects, to name a few. We collect these artifacts and evaluate them through a rubric-based assessment of various core competencies. In lower-division assessments, we work closely with the General Education program; at the upper-division level, we tend to focus on work students complete within their majors, such as their senior project.

Additionally, we rely on external assessments that compare our students' work with university students across the nation. Whenever possible, we triangulate the results of our internal, rubric-based assessments against these nationwide evaluations to have a more holistic appreciation of our students' learning. The Academic Assessment Council — which is comprised of administrators, faculty, and staff — regularly meets to evaluate the results of our assessments, especially at the university level, and to develop a plan for improvement.

We believe that assessment would not be as effective or meaningful without the participation of our faculty, and we view assessment as a key way to promote and enhance faculty professional development. Whether faculty are participating in one of our core competency assessments or in one of our assessment-related workshops, we believe that faculty are essential to all of our assessment efforts.


Core Competencies

At the center of our university-level assessment efforts is our evaluation of five core competencies: critical thinking, written communication, quantitative reasoning, oral communication, and information literacy. These essential skills have been identified by the WASC Senior College and University Commission — Cal Poly's accrediting body — as necessary for universities to evaluate.

We assess these skills at both lower-division and upper-division levels. Each cycle goes through a three-phase process: 1. research and development; 2. evaluation and communication; and 3. education and improvement. Whether through evidence collected in General Education (GE) or discipline-specific courses at or near graduation, the resulting data provides an important measurement of our students' learning.

Further reading:


External Assessments

To better understand our students' learning, we compare the results from our internal assessment projects, particularly the aforementioned core competency assessments, with nationwide exams and surveys, such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) and the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). By including external assessments as part of our overall plan, we can confirm the results of our internal assessments and see how our students perform in comparison with their peers across the country. The result ultimately shows the value added by a Cal Poly education.

Further reading:

  • External Assessments: Contains more information about each assessment as well as links to recent Cal Poly results.


Program-level assessment

The third and final part of our assessment efforts comes from each program's own evaluation of their students' more discipline-specific learning. Undergraduate and graduate programs provide an annual assessment report that focuses on one or more of their program learning outcomes/objectives (PLOs). In this way, we measure if students are meeting the expectations for graduates of their degree programs. This report captures the previous year's assessment efforts and describes the plan for the upcoming year. The Director of Academic Assessment and respective Associate Dean for that college's assessment efforts review and provide feedback for each program's report. 


Further Reading:


Academic Assessment Council (AAC)

Formed through Cal Poly's Academic Senate, the Academic Assessment Council provides important leadership when it comes to planning for our three-part assessment effort. Together with Academic Programs and Planning and the Director of Academic Assessment, the AAC helps guide these efforts and offers key support for development and participation. Additionally, the AAC helps evaluate the previously described assessment results, both internal and external, and further refine university-, college-, and department-level assessment best practices.


Further reading:


Workshops and training

The Director of Academic Assessment and the Director for the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) host workshops throughout the quarter for faculty and staff to understand assessment and to develop more robust skills. Workshops focus on writing strong PLOs, developing a curriculum map for the PLOs, and using the curriculum map to develop a long-term assessment plan.


Further reading:

  • Assessment Planning Series: Visit CTLT's assessment workshop page for more information about the series and to register or request a particular training for yourself or department.


history of assessment at cal poly: The ULO Project

Begun in Fall 2008, the University Learning Outcomes (ULOs) assessment — commonly known as the ULO Project — was coordinated by the Director of General Education (GE) under the auspices of Academic Programs. The project, which continued until 2012, marked the first concerted effort to define measurable outcomes for the ULOs and to assess student attainment of these outcomes directly.


Further Reading:

The ULO Project: Cal Poly's assessment project, which evaluated writing proficiency, oral communication, diversity, lifelong learning, and ethics.

Related Content

Office Contact

Academic Programs and Planning 
1 Grand Avenue
Kennedy Library
  (Bldg. 35), Suite 319  
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407 

Main Number 
(805) 756-2246

General Email