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Saint Paul College A Community & Technical College

​How do I Assess a Learning Outcome? ​

How do you know students have achieved each learning outcome in a course, program or activity? An assessment is a tool which measures student performance during and/or after a learning experience. Efficient and effective assessments result in usable data that can inform improvement of student learning. A few examples include essays, final exams, practical demonstrations, observations, projects or surveys.


When choosing an assessment, it’s important to match it to the verb used in the learning outcome. Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning tells you what type of activity will demonstrate the knowledge, skill, or ability you want to measure. A good assessment is appropriate for the verb.

A picture of Bloom's Taxonomy in Pyramid form with verbs for each level of learning.

Based on Bloom’s Taxonomy Pyramid by Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching CC BY 2.0

A lower level verb like recall or identify can be measured with a simple assessment.

Outcome: Students will be able to recall a certain policy

Assessment: Matching questions in an exam

Outcome: Students will be able to identify campus resources to help them be successful

Assessment: Student survey

A higher level verb such as apply or reflect will require a more robust assessment.

Outcome: Students will be able to analyze the results of a lab test

Assessment: Lab report

Outcome: Students will be able to reflect on the personal and social implications of their behavior

Assessment: Applying a rubric to student conduct meetings

Performance skills are generally measured through practical exams or direct observation.

Outcome: Students will be able to construct a window frame

Assessment: Practical exam or project

Formative and Summative Assessments

Formative Assessments give timely feedback on student performance to help them as the course/activity progresses. How can they improve going forward?

Summative Assessments come at the end of the learning course/activity to measure their achievement. Did they reach the goal(s) stated in the learning outcome(s)?

A picture of candyland board game with a long windy trail and formative assessments along the way. At the end of the trail is the summative assessment. 
Direct and Indirect Assessments

Direct assessments involve looking at real samples of student work or performance to measure achievement of an outcome. Learning is observed, displayed or demonstrated.

Examples: Exams, quizzes, papers, direct observations, projects, performances, portfolios, presentations, clinicals, practicums, internships

Indirect assessments take information gathered in other ways. These often measure students’ opinions of their own learning. Learning is self-reported, described or perceived.

Examples: Surveys, self-reflections, journals, polls, focus groups, interviews

Although indirect measures are not as strong because they are self-reported, they add to the complete picture of student learning.

Using Assessment Data

The data collected in assessments are not only useful for students, but also provide priceless information about the learning experience itself. How can you improve this course/activity/program in the future? What parts of its design need attention? It could be the structure, materials (textbook), assessment (exam questions), or something else.

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