A Glossary of Assessment Terms | Accreditation, Assessment and Learning | Kent State University

In order to develop this guide, it was necessary to define and explain terms as they seemed appropriate for the purposes of this guide. Kent State recognizes that some terms are understood in ways different from that used here, concepts such as assessment, methods, measures, goals, objectives, and values to cite a few. In an effort to be helpful, not arbitrary, the following explanations of terms as used in this guide are offered. (Last updated: May 17, 2019)

Alignment Process

The process of thoughtfully mapping and aligning departmental goals, student learning outcomes and mission to the divisional mission, vision, priorities and student learning outcomes. Alignment ensures all departmental events, initiatives, programs and services are linked to the strategic direction of the division and the university.


Assessment is the process of providing credible evidence of resources, implementation actions, and learning outcomes undertaken for improving the effectiveness of initiatives, instruction, programs, and services in higher education. 

Assessment Plan

An intentional process to gather information about student learning as well as events, initiatives, programs and services impact on the student experience.


The actual measurement of group performance against an established standard or performance, often external.

Campus Climate

The current attitudes, behaviors, standards and practices of employees and students of an institution.

Civic, community and service outcomes

Engagement and participation on local, regional, national and international communities and civic behaviors (e.g., military service, Peace Corps, Americorps, voting, volunteering, civic leadership)

Closing the Loop

The cycle of assessment from defining objectives to using assessment results for improvement and reporting.

Completion (rate)

The attainment (or rate of attainment) of a degree, other formal award, or other completion goal by a student (or among a cohort of students).

Competencies or Proficiencies

Are used to describe learning goals or objectives, and they are typically used to describe skills rather than knowledge or attitudes.

Continuous Improvement

The on-going process of identifying evidence of learning and implementing changes to improve the student experience.


The standard of performance established as the passing score for a performance or other measures such as a test. The performance is compared to an expected level of mastery in an area rather than to other students’ scores.


A collection of qualitative and quantitative information that is gathered for reference and analysis.

Data-Inform Decisions

The ongoing process of collecting and analyzing data to guide decisions. The focus of data-inform decisions is to use evidence to improve the student experience.

Direct Measure

Direct measure captures what students can actually do, examples include exam, presentations, projects, certification, or portfolios.


The degree to which events, initiatives, programs and services successfully achieved desired results. Simply, what was achieved?

Employment outcomes

Career and other employment activities that relate to students’ academic programs.


Are terms used in this guide to indicate the interpreting of findings and are used as synonymous to the term assess and assessment.


Data that demonstrates the impact of events, initiatives, programs and services on the student experiences.

Financial outcomes

Employment wages, debt incurred, loan default, etc.

Formative assessment

Conducted during an event, initiative, program or service with the purpose of providing feedback that can be used for modification or improvement.

Focus groups

A facilitated interview with two or more students to gather information. Participants’ interaction with the facilitator and other participants around a specific topic.


Are statements about the general aims or ideals to which an educational unit aspires. Goals are usually broad and often vague.


Graduation is the outcome of how many students within a cohort graduate from an institution. This is typically measured in two or three years for associate level programs and four, five, or six years for a bachelor level programs.


The effect events, initiatives, programs and services have on students, (e.g., GPAs, retention rates, persistence rates, student learning, etc.).

Indirect Measure

Indirect measure is the collection of students’ attitudes, perceptions, feelings, values, etc. This measure is commonly used in student support services.

Key Performance Indicator (KPI)

Identified measures used to track progress toward achieving goals or outcomes.

Learning outcomes

Documented gains or changes in specific knowledge, values, skills, or abilities.

Longitudinal studies

Provide information from the same group of students at several different points in time.

Likert scale

An objective measure (e.g., surveys) that allows respondents to indicate their level of agreement with a statement by marking their response on a five-point scale, usually ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.


Are the specific instruments or performances used to provide data about learning. They are the tools that are to provide information as to the level of achieved results or outcomes. To avoid systematic bias in findings, multiple measures are required.


Are the redefinition of learning goals in a way that permits their measurement. Objectives express the intended results or outcomes of student learning and clearly specify the criteria by which student knowledge, performance, or values will be evaluated.

Open-Ended Questions

An inquiry format that allows participants to form their own responses to questions.


A method of gather information by observing students’ actions and behaviors.

Operational Outcome

Service/Administrative outcomes that are metrics that document how well operational aspects of a program or activity are functioning.


Outcomes are goals that refer to the end rather than the means, the results rather than the process of learning.


A student-centered metric focused on behaviors that indicate continued enrollment. This may or may not be indicative of ongoing enrollment that fulfils a program of study or the student’s stated educational intent.

Pre-test and Post-test

Pre-test is the assessment of an individual's command of knowledge or skills before the experience. Post-test is the assessment after the experience A post-test typically follows for comparison to determine if there was an acquisition of knowledge or skill.


Statements that indicate departments intended accomplishments. Priorities are aligned with the mission and strategic roadmap of the division and the university.

Program Evaluation

The process of collecting and analyzing data to assess a program’s effectiveness.

Progression (rate)

Progression is the rate at which a cohort participates in any activity that an institution has determined to be correlated with persistence. Common measures are course completion rates, success rates of students on academic probation, and/or comparisons of academic credit hours attempted versus academic credit hours earned. Progression ensures that students demonstrate the skills and competencies needed to complete their academic program and continue successfully towards completion.

Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Describe two research methods. Both are valuable as a means to assess student learning outcomes. In a practical and somewhat philosophical sense the difference is that quantitative research tries to make use of objective measures to test hypotheses and to allow for controlling and predicting learning. Qualitative research makes use of more subjective observations of learning.

Quality of life outcomes

Psychological and physical health and behaviors; satisfaction; lifestyle choices; etc.

Retention (rate)

The continued enrollment of students from one specified time point to the next. Most typically considered from one year to the next, but can also be marked by other progression milestones (by semester/quarter, through sequential degree requirements, etc.). Retention is an institutionally-focused measure as it focuses on students’ continued enrollment within a specific college or university.


Consists of obtaining information from a portion of a larger group or population. When the selection of a sample is randomly chosen there is greater likelihood that the findings from the sample will be representative of the larger group.


A mnemonic that defines the elements of effective goals. SMART means: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.

Student Learning Outcome

Student learned knowledge, values, skills, attitudes and habits as a result of events, initiatives, programs, or services.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning refers to the process in which organizations engage in reviewing their mission statement and goals, and then design and adopt action steps to achieve their goals.

Student Needs Assessment

An assessment of specific populations needs.

Summative assessment

Conducted after an event, initiative, program or service has concluded to make judgements about its quality or to assess intended outcomes.

Transformational Experiences 

The holistic process of developing life-changing personal, professional and intellectual experiences that place students at the center of learning.