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Office of Institutional Effectiveness


Glossary of Assessment Terms


Part of our mission in the OIE is to assist faculty and staff gain a working knowledge of assessment terms and methods.  We have put together a glossary of relevant terms and examples that would be used in the Rice community.

The glossary of assessment terms is available for use by Rice faculty and staff.  It is intended to clarify terms and concepts for individuals who are new to assessment methods.  If you need further assistance please contact the OIE staff.

Download the Glossary of Assessment Terms

Glossary of Assessment Terms

ASSESSMENT A systematic and ongoing effort to collect, analyze, and interpret evidence that describes institutional, departmental, divisional, or program effectiveness, ultimately to improve student learning and development.

FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT Refers to assessment that is carried out throughout the course, project, or time-frame to provide feedback regarding whether the objective is being met. Formative assessment may be conducted for the following reasons: program improvement; to provide feedback to improve teaching, learning, and curricula; to identify students’ strengths/weaknesses and to assist in placing students based on their needs.

SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT Refers to assessment that is carried out at the end of a course, project, or time-frame to evaluate whether the objective was achieved (i.e., the overall performance). Thus, it is typically used to assign course grades. Summative assessment may be conducted for the following reasons: evaluation and accountability; decision-making regarding fund allocation; to aid in program level decision-making; to respond to demands accrediting bodies, state, and federal agencies.

ASSESSMENT METHOD Refers to how the outcome or goal is assessed. The assessment method describes generally how the information/data will be collected, which may involve either direct or indirect measurement. Additionally the method specifies from whom the data will be collected and at what time points. Example assessment methods include but are not limited to evaluation of student academic work, observation, and self-report methods.

DIRECT MEASUREMENT Measures that require the student to demonstrate his/her knowledge and skills in response to the instrument. Examples of direct measurement include 1) achievement tests such as objective tests; 2) student academic work such as essays, presentations, portfolios, and course assignments; 3) observations or case studies.

INDIRECT MEASUREMENT Measures that ask students to reflect on their learning rather than to demonstrate it. Examples of indirect measurement include self-report methods such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups.


The assessment instrument refers to the specific tool or means of collecting the desired information. Example assessment instruments include but are not limited to interviews, portfolio evaluations, scoring rubics, standardized tests, and surveys.


Measures that assess objectives by collecting numeric data and analyzing the data using statistical techniques. Examples of quantitative data include GPA, grades, exam scores; forced-choice survey responses; demographic information; standardized teaching evaluations.


Measures that rely on and evaluate descriptions rather than numeric data. Examples of qualitative data include responses to open-ended survey or interview questions; evaluations of writing samples, portfolios, or formal recitals; participant observations; ethnographic studies.


A document that outlines the student learning outcomes (for academic programs) or unit outcomes (for support units), assessment methods used to collect evidence related to the attainment of each outcome, and the intervals at which the evidence is collected and reviewed.


A point of reference for measurement; a standard of achievement against which to evaluate or judge one’s own performance. A program can use its own past-performance data as a baseline benchmark against which to compare future data/performance. Additionally, data from another (comparable, exemplary) program can be used as a target benchmark.


An in-depth examination of a single instance or event. A case study provides a systematic way of looking at an event(s), collecting data, analyzing information, and reporting the results


Method of assessing student learning outcomes within the classroom environment, using course goals, objectives and content to gauge the extent of the learning. Such assessment uses existing information that instructors routinely collect (e.g., test performance, student portfolios) via both direct and indirect methods of measurement


Process of evaluating curriculum in relation to intended outcomes to ensure that students are receiving appropriate instruction and to enable the program/department to identify gaps in the curriculum and provide an overview of program accomplishments


Describes a broad learning outcome or concept (i.e., what you want students to learn or a unit to achieve) expressed in general terms. Example goals include, Problem-solving skills or Providing high quality, cost-effective healthcare for students.


The extent to which an institution achieves its mission and goals. Institutional Effectiveness is monitored through ongoing, integrated, institution-wide research-based planning and evaluation processes that (1) incorporate a systematic review of institutional mission, goals, and outcomes; (2) result in continuing improvement of institutional quality; and (3) demonstrate the institution is effectively accomplishing its mission.


Specific, observable, and measurable knowledge or skill that the student gains/develops as a result of a specific course. Thus, these outcomes are clearly stated in the course syllabus. There are three categories of student learning outcomes.



COGNITIVE OUTCOME What students KNOW; knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, & evaluation.


AFFECTIVE OUTCOMEWhat students CARE ABOUT; students’ feelings, attitudes, interests, and preferences.


PERFORMANCE OUTCOME What students CAN DO; skilled performance, production of something new (e.g., a paper, project, piece of artwork), critical thinking skills (e.g., analysis and evaluation).


MISSION STATEMENT Of the Unit (i.e., academic program or administrative/educational support unit), supports the Institutional Mission and describes the Unit’s purpose (ie, the end results the Unit seeks to accomplish).

OBJECTIVES Specific skills, values, and attitudes students should exhibit that reflect the broader goals. For example, a possible objective for an Anthropology course would be, Students will able to identify trends and patterns in anthropological data.

OPERATIONAL(-IZE) Defining a term or object so that it can be measured (usually in terms that distinguish the term/object from others).

PORTFOLIO Collections of student work over time that are used to demonstrate student growth and achievement in identified areas. Portfolios may contain research papers, tests and exams, case studies, audio or video tapes, computational exercises and other original works, as well as personal essays, journals, and self-evaluations.

PROGRAM EVALUATION Determination of the adequacy of the program in fulfilling its mission, goals, and objectives.

PROGRAM GOALS Intended outcomes of instruction, stated in general terms, further defined by a set of specific (observable and measurable) student learning outcomes. Program goals reflect institution-wide goals and the program’s mission.

RELIABILITY The extent to which an assessment method produces consistent and repeatable results. Reliability is a precondition for validity.

RUBRIC A scoring key. Typically a rubric is a grid that outlines identified criteria for successfully completing an assignment or task and establishes levels for meeting those criteria. Rubrics provide an efficient and reliable way to evaluate complex products or performances and to define precise outcomes and expectations. Rubrics can be used to score everything from essays to performances and portfolios.

STRATEGIC PLANNING Long-term (i.e., often 3-5 year) planning at the level of the whole institution or unit that focuses on adaptation to the organization’s external environment and the future. Guided by a vision of the organization in the future, strategic planning attempts to position the organization favorably with respect to needed resources.

TRIANGULATE/-TION The use of a combination of assessment methods, such as using surveys, interviews, and observations to measure a unit outcome.

UNIT OUTCOME Intended outcomes that reflect the area or service that can be improved using current resources and personnel and are assessable within one assessment cycle. Unit outcomes should be under the direct control of the unit and in-line with a University Strategic Plan goal, objective, and strategy. FOR ADMINISTRATIVE UNITS, unit outcomes are primarily process-oriented, describing the support process/service the unit intends to address. FOR EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT UNITS, unit outcomes may include both process and student learning outcomes.

VALIDITY The extent to which an assessment method measures or assesses what it claims to measure or assess. A valid assessment instrument or technique produces results that can lead to valid inferences.

VALUE ADDED The enhancement that students achieve (to knowledge, skills abilities and other attributes) as a result of their higher education experience. It is about what value, to the student, has been accumulated as a result of a period of time in higher education. Institutions may be evaluated or assessed on the basis of the cumulative value that they add to their students..



Gardiner, L. F.; Anderson, C.; & Cambridge, B. L. (1997). Learning through Assessment: A Resource Guide for Higher Education. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.

Harvey, L. (2004). Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International, http://www.qualityresearchinternational.com/glossary/

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (2007). Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement (Interim Edition). Available: http://www.sacscoc.org/pdf/2007%20Interim%20Principles%20complete.pdf

Stassen, M. L. A., Doherty, K., & Poe, M. (2001). Program-Based Review and Assessment. Available: http://www.umass.edu/oapa/oapa/publications/online_handbooks/program_based.pdf

Texas A&M International University (2006). Institutional Effectiveness PractitionerÕs Manual. Available: http://www.tamiu.edu/adminis/iep/