Assessment Glossary

The assessment glossary is a work in progress by the Outcome Assessment Coordinating Committee and will develop more fully over time. The intent of providing these definitions is to help establish a common language and understanding of what we mean when we use these terms in the context of university outcome assessment.

Term: Definition:
Assessment a process for the collection and analysis of evidence about the achievement of student learning outcomes for the purposes of improvement and to determine or demonstrate the effectiveness of an educational program.


a criterion-referenced objective performance data point that can be used for the purposes of internal or external comparison. A program can use its own data as a baseline benchmark against which to compare future performance. It can also use data from another program as a benchmark.
Direct measure an assessment of learning that requires students to demonstrate their learning in a way that an observer can assess it, such as in exams, performances, presentations and papers.
Formative assessment an assessment which is used for improvement (individual or program level) rather than for making final decisions.
Indirect measure an assessment based on perceptions or reflections of students (or alumni, or others) about their learning, such as surveys.
Qualitative assessment an assessment which measures the differences in the qualities of responses, typically relying on detailed descriptions and evaluated using interpretive criteria.
Quantitative assessment an assessment which measures the differences in the quantities of responses, resulting in data based on scores or ratings which can be numerically analyzed.
Reliability how consistently a measure of the same phenomenon leads to the same result after multiple administrations or across multiple scorers/raters.
Rubric a tool that articulates the evaluation criteria for assessment and gradations of quality for each criterion.
Student learning outcome statement a specific description of what a student will be able to do at the end of the period during which that ability is presumed to have been acquired, and the focus of outcome assessment. (Note: some professional organizations may refer to these with different terms, such as objectives, indicators, abilities, or competencies).
Summative assessment a measure of achievement at the end of an instructional unit or course of study that is used for evaluation and decision-making purposes.
Validity the extent to which an instrument measures what it purports to measure.