Assessment Vocabulary

This page contains a list of terms used in assessment, and is provided so that Hartwick College users have a common ground for understanding the materials on the assessment pages.


Student Learning Assessment - an ongoing systematic process designed by an institution to monitor and improve student learning. It is designed to answer the question: "What are students learning; or how well are they learning it?" In this process, faculty explicitly define what it is they expect students to learn (referred to as learning outcomes); review the curriculum to confirm it is designed to foster those learning outcomes; collect empirical data to demonstrate to what extent the curriculum is fostering the desired outcomes; and use the results of the assessment to make appropriate modifications in the curriculum (referred to as the feed-back loop).

Institutional Assessment -
an on-going process designed to monitor and determine the extent to which curricular, co-curricular and institutional areas and processes support the achievement of student learning outcomes as defined by the mission of the college.


Assessment Plan - a document that outlines what empirical data will be collected, by whom, for the assessment each of the learning outcomes (typically in a multi-year cycle); the process for reviewing the data, policies and procedures to guide discussion and feedback of the results; and the process for modifying the course, program or curriculum to improve student learning.( Hartwick College's College-Wide Assessment Plan)


Assessment tools (Methods) - instruments used to gather data on student learning; either quantitative or qualitative selected in relation to the specific learning outcome(s) to be assessed; evidence available; learning to be observed and agreed-upon procedures for engaging in the assessment.

Authentic Assessment - refers to specific activities or exercise that students participate in which simulate or are embedded in real-world activities or problem solving. For example, oral communication skills can be assessed when a student presents their final capstone experience to the faculty and their peers.

Benchmark - an example of student learning at a given level of competency; a target measure by which to judge success or adequate level of accomplishment.

· Examples of actual student work can be used to illustrate different levels of competence on a task or activity e.g., writing levels.

Bloom's Taxonomy[1]- commonly used discussion of the six levels of learning that occur. According to Bloom, knowledge increases as one progresses through the levels of learning, where knowledge is the most surface level and evaluation represents the deepest form of learning.

· Knowledge - To know specific facts, terms, concepts, principles or theories;

· Comprehension - To be able to understand, interpret, compare and contrast, explain;

· Application - To apply knowledge to new situations, to solve problems;

· Analysis - To identify the organizational structure of something; to identify parts, relationship and organizing principles;

· Synthesis - To create something, to integrate ideas into a solution, to propose an action plan, to propose a new classification scheme;

· Evaluation - To judge the quality of something based on its adequacy, value, logic or use.

The Taxonomy has been considered very useful in defining learning-outcome statements. 

Classroom Assessment -- (sometime referred to as Course-based Assessment) - is a process of gathering data on student learning during the educational experience, designed to help the instructor determine which concepts or skills the students are not learning well, so that steps may be taken to improve the students' learning while the course is still in session. This is an example of formative assessment.

Culture of Assessment - An institutional environment in which decisions are based on evidence, research and analysis and in which the educational experiences and services are planned and delivered so as to maximize positive outcomes and impacts on students and student learning.

  • A "culture of assessment" exists when faculty and staff know the results they produce and how they are related to student learning continuous quality improvement.
  • A "culture of assessment" is an integral part of a student-centered learning environment.

Empirical Data

Qualitative Data - ways of collecting information that are concerned with understanding or conveying meaning s or contexts, rather than making statistical inferences. Common forms: participant observations focus groups, in-depth interviews, etc.

Quantitative Data - information that is collected or represented numerically; typically focuses on counting occurrences or measuring  characteristic's or behavior rather than meaning s; easy to analyze statistically. Common forms: surveys, experiments, questionnaires, etc.


Direct Assessment - (sometimes referred to as direct evidence) - assessment of student learning that occurs during the instruction experience; when students participate in an activity or exercise that requires them to demonstrate the extent of their learning (e.g. we assess their ability to write by having them write a final paper).

Embedded Assessment - assessment through the use of exams, projects, activities or exercises built into the structure of the course.

Feedback Loop - use the results of the assessment to make appropriate modifications to a course, program or curriculum.


Formative Assessment - (sometimes referred to as process evaluation) - assessment that occurs during the activity, course or curriculum process with the focus on improving learning as it is occurring.


Goals - broad statement about the types of learning desired and facilitated within a course, department or curriculum.

  • SMART Goals - Acronym which indicates goals are more likely to be achieved if they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Timely.

Holistic Assessment - Making judgments about student learning by using an overall appraisal of the students' entire performance, rather than scoring or analyzing components of student performance individually; the complete or final product of the learning experience is assessed as a whole, e.g., portfolio.

Indicator - a piece of information about the performance of a student that can be used to gauge the level of student learning, e.g., test score, GPA, etc.

Indirect Assessment - (sometimes referred to as indirect evidence) - assessment of student learning based on opinions or perceptions obtained from students or faculty, often collected through the use of supplemental surveys, student evaluations or focus groups.

Inputs - raw materials put into the institution, department or curriculum to facilitate achievement of the outcomes.

Learning Outcomes - (sometimes referred to as objectives) - statements that describe specific behaviors a student is expected to demonstrate to assure the stated goal has been achieved; knowledge, skills and values students should demonstrate upon completion of a course, program, or curriculum.  (Hartwick College General Education Learning Outcomes)

Mission- description of the unifying purpose of the goals of the institution, department, or general education curriculum.  (Hartwick College Mission)  (Hartwick College Curricular Mission).

Outcomes - target measures that demonstrate achievement of mission and goals.

Portfolio- A systematic and organized collection of student work that exhibits direct evidence of student efforts, progress and learning over a period of time.  Portfolios may include papers, projects, videos, CD's, journals, etc.

Self-Assessment - (sometimes referred to as reflective learning) - a process in which a student engages in a systematic review of his or her own performance or learning, usually for the purpose of improving their learning in the future.

(Scoring) Rubric - a description of standards used to determine the level of learning attained in a student's work; a scoring guide in the subjective assessment of student work that makes performance expectations explicit at various levels (e.g., excellent, good, fair, poor).  A scoring rubric combines aspects of quantitative and qualitative data collection into one assessment tool that describes the criteria to be used in the scoring of students' work into categories with verbal labels that fall along a quantitative continuum.  (Webpage for designing scoring rubrics - What is Rubistar?)

Summative Assessment - (sometimes referred to as outcomes assessment) - process for measuring the overall level of student learning at the end of a course or educational experience for the purpose of assessing the students knowledge, skills and values.   It ban be used to help the instructor improve a course and/or appropriate committees to improve curriculum development and offerings.

Value-added Assessment - assessment of learning that has been gained as a result of participation in a learning experience.
[1]Bloom, B.S. (1956) Taxonomy of education objectives:  The classification of educational goals.  Handbook I:  Cognitive domain.  White Plains, NY:  Longman; Allen, M.J. (2006) Assessing General Education Programs.  Boson, MA:  Anker Publishing Company, Inc.