At Minnesota State University, Mankato assessment is the practice of evaluating the manner or degree to which students are learning what they are supposed to be learning. Academic departments and programs at Minnesota State Mankato have articulated student learning outcomes, which are statements of the key indicators of student learning in specific departments and programs. Assessment is designed to compare actual student performance to these student learning outcomes: We say this is what students are learning--are they? That is what assessment is designed to do.
Assessment is used to respond to at least two concerns: 1) Are students learning what they are supposed to be learning? 2) How can educators document that students are learning what they are supposed to be learning? While these two concerns are intertwined, they also fulfill separate functions. Concern one is primarily a question of academics: Are our teaching methods effective? Are our students learning what they should and as well as they should? What can we do to improve student learning? Concern one is aligned with continuing improvement of teaching and learning. Concern two is aligned more with the issue of accountability. Education is increasingly being asked and even required to document that students know and can do what we say they can do--and the simple completion of a course, program and graduation requirements is not enough. Accountability requires that educators show that students can actually demonstrate what they know and can do--and a grade on a test, a paper or in a course is not sufficient.