Once you’ve agreed on your goals/learning outcomes, whether for a major, minor, course, or component within your curriculum, the next step is locating data that will enable you to decide whether or not you’ve met your assessment goals.   The type of data you’re looking for will be dictated by the goals/learning outcomes you are assessing, so it’s not possible to draw up a single all-purpose definitive list of what types of information departments should gather.  The following suggestions are not meant as such; they are drawn from readings and discussions held by the Assessment Fellows and at the Lunches on Learning throughout the last year.

It is useful to draw a distinction between direct and indirect measures of student learning.   The former allow one to assess directly whether or not students have accomplished certain learning goals by examining what students produce or “do”.   The latter, by contrast, focus on student and/or faculty reports about what has taken place in, or as a result of experiences in, classes.    Some goals can be reasonably assessed through indirect measures alone, but many of our most important require some mix of direct and indirect measures.    Use of any assessment data, whether direct or indirect, requires a clear focus on what outcomes are being assessed, and agreement on how they are being measured. 

The following list divides data into direct and indirect measures, with the caveat that this distinction ultimately depends on the outcomes measured.   The examples below are illustrative, not exhaustive, and we encourage you to share “data sources” not on the list.

  • Student Self- Reports: These reports can include, but are not limited to, exit interviews, alumni surveys, and surveys/interviews with current students.
  • Faculty Perceptions: We frequently rely on faculty perceptions of student strength and weaknesses; while this data is not usually systematically gathered, it is often an important guide to areas in the curriculum that are particularly strong or weak. Faculty perceptions are thus often the starting point for more systematic data gathering from students, using either direct or indirect methods.
  • Transcript Analyses: Looking at what courses students take, when, in what order, and how this corresponds to other outcomes can be useful in assessing some goals. Note: Grades along are generally not considered a good measure of learning outcomes, due to their global nature, variations in grading practices across instructors, and other factors.
  • Alumni Outcomes: By this, we mean outcomes such as success in the labor market or performance in graduate programs.


  • Assignments, or Portions of Assignments: While any given assignment may have multiple purposes, portions of an assignment can often be linked to particular learning outcomes, and can be independently assessed in this regard. Note: This is not the same as grading, though it can sometimes be done at the same time. 
  • 1 Minute Papers: These papers are a useful classroom assessment technique that might also be helpful in larger scale assessment efforts.
  • Capstone Projects: The projects are papers, performances, or works of art which inherently involve the analysis of student work.
  • Portfolios: Portfolios tend to be collections of student work, often over a period of time. This allows change to be better assessed.
  • Honors Theses and Examinations