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Northwestern University

Developing a Major or Minor Assessment Plan

Weinberg College departments and programs proposing new majors or minors, or changes to existing majors or minors, must present a set of learning goals for their students and a plan for assessing the degree to which each goal is met. This document provides guidance on developing assessment plans.

Steps described below are interrelated. Your learning goals will affect what approaches you use to evaluate student learning, and thinking about these approaches can lead to refining the learning goals. Documentation of student learning can lead to curricular changes. One goal of assessment is to demonstrate the effectiveness of our academic programs—and another is to make our curriculum, and the experiences of our students, even better.

Step 1 – Identify learning goals for your students

Identify key learning goals for students completing your major or minor. What do you want them to know, to be able to do, and to care about or better appreciate when they finish your program? Our webpage on developing learning goals  provides suggestions and examples.  

Step 2 - Develop an assessment plan 

Identify--or create--aligned evaluations of student learning.  How can you assess the degree to which your students achieve your learning goals? Direct measures of what students know and can do (e.g., their answers to targeted exam questions) and indirect measures (e.g., students’ reflections on their learning) are both useful. A good first step is to think about what you already do, what information is already readily available. Do you conduct exit surveys? Do all your students write a substantial research paper in at least one course? These can be the foundation of your assessment plan.

Our webpage on evaluating student learning provides more information and examples, as well as links to other resources.

Consider looking at other program outcomes. You’ll often want to know more about your students and their experiences than “What did they learn?” and “What can they now do?”  Possibilities include learning about their first destinations (what students do immediately after graduating) or their participation in relevant extracurricular activities.  Or, it might be informative to see what other majors and minors they select or how many choose each concentration within your major. Compiling and analyzing this sort of information can be an important part of an assessment plan.

Build a timeline. You don’t have to do everything at the same time. You might examine papers in advanced courses one year and answers to key exam questions in foundational courses during the next year. You might interview graduating seniors one year, but look at course and concentration selections in a different year. Your plan should involve assessing student achievement for each of your learning goals at least every 4 or 5 years.

Step 3 - Carry out your plan

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